Restaurants & Bars

Elite Café Brunch – biscuits, beignets, gumbo & cheese grits

rworange | Jan 7, 200611:55 PM    

There were so many positive posts about The Meetinghouse biscuits, but I never made it there … or Hotel Utah. So when Joanna Karlinsky took over The Elite Café on Fillmore in SF, I jumped on the opportunity to try those biscuits.

I had brunch and then took home some gumbo and collard greens. Here’s what was tried so far:

Traditional New Orleans-Style beignets - $2
Meetinghouse Benedict: Two biscuits with ham hock stew, poached eggs & hollandaise with cheddar cheese grits ($12)
California seafood gumbo ($13)
Slow cooked collard greens ($2.75)
Meetinghouse biscuits ($1)
Elite Bloody Mary ($7)
House-made fresh ginger ale ($2.75)

The Elite Café’s menu isn’t online yet, so at the bottom there are a few of the other brunch and dinner dishes.

The many-layered, light, buttery biscuits with a slightly crusty exterior were very nice and were perfect in the Benedict.

There are some things that are simple but so perfect they stand out. The poached eggs were that perfect item. The bright yellow yolk was so nice when broken and running over the tender pork on top of those great biscuits. And to make this one big comfort dish, there were grits that were pure cheesy, buttery goodness.

The beignet was a lovely thing … made to order, hot and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was rectangular and about the size of a buttermilk bar, but light and airy like a popover.

Just as I was trying to recall my last beignet at Café du Monde (and searching back, I was thinking this was much better), the manager stopped by to chat and ask how I liked the beignet. I said that it’s been so long since I’ve tried them in New Orleans, it was hard to compare it. He joked that it was the wrong answer because these are better. He may have something there.

Although they are different, I prefer these over the Boulette Larder’s pricy $7 beignets. Those are very good but … $7 … opposed to $2.

They also serve a small bowl of cinnamon sugar donut holes ($3.75)

I’m not a big fan of Bloody Marys. So my opinion may not be worth much. I was about to order the Meyer lemon-ade when the Bloody Marys that another table ordered caught my eye. I enjoyed this very much. It is not the super spicy type where the spice overwhelms the drink, but smooth with lots of horseradish (you could see it). However, the horseradish did not take over the drink but was a background accent. Garnished with a whole pickled green bean, a delicious pickled onion, green olive with pimento and celery stick … with all those vegetables and fresh tomato juice … this is a health drink.

The only real miss was the house-made ginger ale. On first sip, I liked it but thought it was a little sweet. However, there wasn’t enough ginger kick and they put too much ice in the glass so that it was hard to tell if there was sparkling water in it. The ice so diluted the drink that at the end, I couldn’t even taste the sugar. That is true of all drinks. I’d suggest telling them to limit the ice or to give the ice on the side.

While the gumbo was reheated at home in a microwave for dinner, it was so delicious. It had a smoky richness and was full of seafood – oysters, crab shrimp, scallops as well as onions and red and green bell peppers. I let this linger on my tongue, enjoying the play of flavor. Now I really want to try the jambalaya offered at dinner.

The collard greens were just full of smoky ham hock love. The aroma alone was hoggy heaven. There was some hot pepper in them which gave an additional mouth tingle. The greens glistened with pork fat but were not greasy. Best slow-cooked greens that I’ve had in the Bay Area. This side is sinus-clearing hot and spicy, so be warned

In addition to pancakes, omelets, eggs, bacon, sausages, burgers and salads three other brunch dishes that seemed noteworthy were:

Oven baked skillet cake with caramelized bananas and toasted walnuts
Smoked salmon platter with toasted bagels and all the trimmings
New Orleans style BBQ shrimp with French bread

The renovation of the art deco Elite Café which has been at that location since 1928 (originally the Lincoln Grill) was done with loving care and is much more stylish than the previous site. The fish bar in the front is gone, replaced with a comfy reception area / lounge.

In the center of the restaurants are six two tops with a big round table for seven in the center. The two tops are so close that the only thing separating them is the tablecloths. It was not busy Saturday morning, so this wasn’t a problem and it didn’t feel cramped or close.

The booths still run along the wall. People were thin in 1928. Anyone larger than size 12 should consider reserving a table. However, the booths look cozy and private and would be nice for a date. There are still buzzers to call the waiters. They are not currently in service but there was talk of restoring them.

The other wall has the handsome 14 seat bar with seven wooden swivel seats and seven backless bar stools. There was a nice mix of New Orleans music in the background with one Zydeco tune.

The service is much better than at the previous version of the Elite Café. This staff is very welcoming and helpful. I especially liked my waiter who took a lot of initiative to make my visit and pleasant as possible. The Benedict really comes with sage-butter fried potatoes. He was able to get the grits substituted when I asked. Also, the kitchen really didn’t have a takeout container for the gumbo but he worked with the chef and they found a container. He was also very nice.

I forgot the brand, but the coffee was very good. No chicory coffee though. It would be nice if they could work something out with Blue Bottle and serve that iced New Orleans coffee with chicory.

I can’t think of a more pleasant thing than stopping by on a weekend morning, sitting at the bar and ordering a coffee with beignet or bowl of donuts.

Here are some of the items available for dinner … all the current mains except one are listed, but not all the starters. Folding the menu made one dish unreadable.

Hama hama oysters on the half shell
Infamous deviled eggs ($2.75 for 3)
Macaroni & cheese (also available as a brunch side)
Down home cornbread
3 fritters: oysters, rock shrimp & eggplant

Rock shrimp & scallion Johnnycakes with roasted pepper mayonnaise & remoulade
Shrimp, duck & Andouille Sausage jambalaya
Hominy-crusted catfish on tomato, smoked ham hock & black-eye pea stew
BBQ pork ribs with hoppin John and cole slaw
Pulled Pork with cream grits and fried vegetables
Niman ranch pork chop with roasted kabocha squash, walnuts and mission fig jus
Smoke-roasted natural 1/2 chicken with spicy red beans, rice and cheese
Niman Ranch Rib-Eye with slow-cooked collard greens and sweet onion rings
Snake River Farms Kobe Beef Sirloin with fried yellow finn potatoes and wild mushroom ragout
Braised Kobe beef brisket with buttermilk mashed potatoes and fried okra

Most of items in the main courses like the mashed potatoes and red beans and rice can be ordered as separate sides. For brunch, an addition 75 cents will get sausage gravy with the biscuit.

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

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