There has been a good deal of chatter in the second half of 2010 about the fact that Brenda’s was expanding to take over the space next door where a laundromat had been. Lord knows it was needed given the one hour plus waits to get in there and have a bite. Ah, the price of being good… and listed in every guidebook known to our slightly-more-than-monkey evolved asses.
After months of construction, a couple of weeks ago Brenda’s officially opened the new part of the restaurant, in order to shift dining to this section while remodeling the old half. Essentially, it’s playing out like this: the new half gets a huge kitchen (with an upstairs office/store room), two bathrooms, and what appears to be a narrow dining area with four more seats than the old section. While everything runs like this for the next couple of months, the old half gets remodeled to just be seating. Once done, the two parts will be connected via a large doorway next to the bathrooms and there will be about three times more seating than before and this is a mighty good thing.
In the meantime, we went and checked out how Brenda’s is running in the new space. We actually went there twice last week just to sorta make sure we gave it as fair a shake as possible because in short, if you’re a local and have been waiting for the expansion to ward off the wait times, wait some more. Things are not completely up to speed yet.
The one big thing that hasn’t changed is that the food is still as good as it always was. Our meal on Sunday wasn’t quite as tasty as the one on Thursday, but that was partially due to the fact that they only have a brunch menu on weekends. Still the food is head and shoulders above other similar spots in the area/city. We’re a big fan of their signature watermelon iced tea, but on Sunday, it was wickedly sugary for some reason. In the staff’s defense, they tried to fix it (although without 100% success).
It seems that the staff have changed a bit as well, or at the very least, they’re having trouble adjusting to the new space. Their vibe wasn’t quite right and they seemed clumsy and disorganized. This might have to do with how the new space is set up, but more on that later. The one big new addition is a host at the front. This fellow, while probably a nice enough guy, really kills the atmosphere that Brenda’s used to have. I’ve no idea why he has suddenly appeared, but he’s a bit too “creamy” and buzzy and just makes it feel like I’ve stepped in to a Denny’s on Mother’s Day in my home town. It seems that all the servers pool the tips, so I don’t know why they didn’t just keep pooling the seating work as well. Simply put, we are not fans of the host addition at all.
Then there’s the space… It’s nice enough and overall looks good, but it doesn’t feel like the old Brenda’s anymore. Mainly it feels like a generic San Francisco restaurant with one exposed concrete wall on one side and starkly white walls on the other side. That homey Southern feeling in the old space is gone. Also, this space is far, far too narrow (so much so that I could witness every crumb falling out of the mouths of a gaggle of Marina girls –sitting on the other side of the room– who couldn’t close their pie holes while eating). Trying to pass anyone is a painful experience for both the customer and the staff. The tables are also too low. I’m a pretty tall guy and am used to dealing with a world not built for my size, but I swear that the tables are a solid two inches lower than a standard table. And because the space is so narrow, you’re backed right up against the wall in a very uncomfortable position. It didn’t seem that much better for those who were of a smaller stature either and when sitting across from someone, you’re constantly kicking each others feet as there is no where for them to go.
The ambient jazz music is still there, but given the really high ceilings in this space, it just seems like an afterthought. Ever been to a touristic restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans? It feels like that and kinda sucks as I liked how the music was before. Also, there is AC in the space as well, which makes it drafty –if you chill easily, bring a sweater.
There is now an interior waiting space, which makes little sense. You’d think that having tables there would be a better use of the space as it can fit maybe five people and one chair is right next to the chalkboard for the waiting list, so you get people walking past you all the time as well as chalk dust on your clothes. But, there are always more than five people waiting to get in to Brenda’s so there will still be all the people waiting outside. I don’t get it other than to have a spot where those who tire from standing too long can sit or have a coffee if they’re impatient, which I’m sure is greatly appreciated by some.
Anyways, as you can tell, while we still love the food and we’ll most probably keep coming back in spite of these issues, the changes aren’t really all that awesome. We’ll have to see how everything will stack up once the old section is re-opened, but given how well this transition has gone, there will be some jostling to get all of that in order as well. Change is indeed inevitable, but it sucks when it lets you down.