Brenda’s vs. Dottie’s: Tenderloin brunch worth the wait?

Like malfunctioning iPhone apps or high ATM fees, long brunch waits are one of our favorite first-world complaints. I’m no exception; I’ve certainly whined about the lines at Boogaloos or Mission Beach Café while blowing on my too-hot latte and wondering why Twitter crashed again.

But gripe though we may, San Franciscans seem perennially hard-wired to wait hours for eggs. Just look at Brenda’s French Soul Food and Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, two Tenderloin hot spots that rarely stem the weekend floods. Brenda’s expanded at the end of 2010 and Dottie’s moved to a larger space on Sixth Street this winter, but you wouldn’t know it from the lines.

See information about both restaurants at the end of the article.

Even for the seasoned local, well-accustomed to queuing your mornings away, are they worth it? I put these two breakfast titans head to head to see how they measure up with the hours you’ll spend waiting (and complaining).

Ambiance: Brenda’s
Maybe I’m just a fan of Dottie’s funkier old location, but the dim, brick-and-wood interior of the new space seems better suited to a saloon or dinner restaurant (the space formerly housed Passion Café). Brenda’s has an ever-pleasant breezy interior, with plenty of glass to let the sun in. The space’s energy shifts at night, feeling suitably intimate and romantic, but during the day it really hits its stride.

Street scenes: Dottie’s
For sheer dramatic overload, you can’t beat Dottie’s Sixth and Market locale. This might not be the healthiest instinct, but I am forever rubbernecking at the compressed human carnival. It completely pre-empts the need to make conversation while you wait in line. (This one was neck and neck: Brenda’s is on Polk and Eddy streets.)  

Pancakes: Dottie’s
I tried fruit pancakes at both spots, and Dottie’s squeezed through in the clutch. Brenda’s peach pancakes, served with a luxurious dish of whipped cream, were similar to the legendary beignets: springy and thick, with the consistency of fried dough. I enjoyed them at first, but it was a lot to put down (more First World woes). By contrast, the rice-flour raspberry pancakes at Dottie’s didn’t give that queasy, fried-overload sensation.

Egg dishes: Brenda’s
The winner couldn’t have been clearer. Dotties’ pulled pork scramble was high on meat, low on flavor, while the soupy lamb merguez and spinach omelet seeped into a puddle of oil. The jalapeño cornbread and buttermilk dill toast on the side were solid, but I was saddened by the mushy home fries (life is very hard).

Brenda’s, by contrast, made a most excellent scramble known as the Hangtown Fry: fluffy eggs exploding with crisp-yet-juicy oysters, bacon and scallions. An omelet of Andouille sausage, mushrooms and cheddar was similarly well-balanced and tasty. On the side, a beautiful biscuit, creamy grits and potato hash were all

Signature dessert: Tie
I hemmed and hawed on this one for awhile. Just know this: Whether you get a sampler of Brenda’s piping-hot beignets or a brick of Dottie’s storied coffee cake, you’ll find little to gripe about.

Service: Brenda’s
At Brenda’s, I was thoroughly charmed by our Southern waitress and her sparkling laugh. The pace of service remained brisk and efficient, while her doting, unhurried manner made it seem like we weren’t eating at breakfast ground zero. Dottie’s service was perfectly OK, but you could feel the strain.  

Brenda’s took the overall trophy, though anyone who waits in two-hour lines also deserves some kind of prize.

Next stop: Mama’s in North Beach.

Brenda’s French Soul Food

Location: 652 Polk St. (at Eddy Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 345-8100,
Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $5 to $12 for brunch only
Recommended dishes: Beignet sampler ($9.50), Hangtown Fry ($11), Andouille sausage omelet ($10)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: No

Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

Location: 28 Sixth St. (at Jessie Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 885-2767,
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays (except closed Thursdays); 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Price range: $4 to $13.50
Recommended dishes: Coffee cake ($6), raspberry rice-flour pancakes ($11.50)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: No


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