This unlikely, great little restaurant was opened in a deserted warehouse district in Oakland by chef Tanya Holland and her husband a couple of years ago. Despite the location it was an instant hit, which we witnessed on a recent visit. The place was basically full immediately upon opening at 8 a.m., which was when we'd been advised was the best time to drop by on a Sunday. At all other times we'd have had to deal with a line out the door.
My wife went to college with Tanya Holland. We followed Tanya around New York before she moved out west. She worked for Bobby Flay years before I met her. She was also the chef at the Smith Street restauant that preceded Lunetta (New Victory Kitchen, I believe?) and was the opening chef at the Tribeca cocktails & small plates venture Grace. There were other restaurants, including a place in Boston, the name of which I can no longer recall. Tanya has also occasionally appeared on the Food Network and put out a soul food book; you might call her a food celebrity, if not a major one like Flay or Batali. She is certainly a major personality and a very talented cook.
The menu features elevated southern cooking-- she calls it "New Style Down Home." Everything we had was beautifully executed. The hot, light beignets were a great start. The cornmeal waffles were a revelation-- light and crispy long after they left the oven. (You can get them plain or with fried chicken.) We enjoyed the cheddar cheese grits with the poached eggs, but I'm afraid we pretty much forgot about that plate when Tanya sent us over a complimentary bowl of her shrimp and grits, which just blew us away. Spicy, creamy & shrimpy, this was really good stuff. (We paid for the rest of the food.)
Obviously I'm biased, but I really liked this place. Tanya and her husband have just opened another restaurant down the street, a bbq joint I wish we'd had a chance to try while we were in town. I'm thrilled to see her doing so well.
[Bay Area] Brown Sugar Kitchen
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