September 5, 2014

September 5, 2014
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Blue Jay Cafe exterior. Photo via Facebook.

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Brenda’s famed fried chicken. Photo: Libby Truesdell.

For years, I have wondered who and what would take over the lusterless ~BLUE JAY CAFE~ on Divisadero. The place has such great bones (love that horseshoe counter SO MUCH) and there’s even a patio out back. All it was missing was some real soul, which it’s going to be getting in spades, because the fabulous Brenda Buenviaje and her partner Libby Truesdell of ~BRENDA’S FRENCH SOUL FOOD~ (and Libby Jane Café) will be opening ~BRENDA’S MEAT & THREE~ at the end of this year. They haven’t bought the business from the current owners, André and Jennifer Larzul, but they are now majority/part-owners of the business, and the concept is theirs.

So, let’s discuss. First, the place is going to be a classic Southern diner concept, but not limited to New Orleans—Brenda has visions beyond beignets and gumbo. Breakfast will be served, with some standard and new items, ranging from johnnycakes to a one-eyed jack (i.e., toad in the hole) inside of one of Brenda’s famed cream biscuits, with creamed gravy and “city ham steak.” She’s also working on a version of callas, a fritter you don’t see much anymore, even in New Orleans: it’s a creamy but crisp rice pudding fritter, which will be served with brown sugar and a buttermilk glaze. Whoa.

Lunchtime means blue plate specials, from red beans and fried chicken on Wednesday to an amped-up fried baloney sandwich. Bring it on.

Dinner is when the diner’s name will make the most sense: you’ll be able to choose from five or six proteins, like fried chicken (yes, Brenda’s delicious fried chicken will be in the 94117!), oxtail, fried catfish, and country ribs. And then it’s time for three sides, with up to 15 in all, like bacon fat fries, smothered green beans, mac and cheese, creamed biscuits, and some seasonal sides too. The meat and three combos will range from $18-$22. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or just trying to eat more vegetables, there will be plenty of sides for you to make a good meal. There will also be appetizers and salads. Oh, and beer and wine too.

It will be open daily, except for Tuesdays. The remodel starts Monday, with lots of cleaning, painting, and more. The hoped-for reopening will be mid-November. I’ll be (happily) giving you progress reports. As for Brenda’s Fillmore project, Brenda’s Original Po’Boys, that continues to move at a “snail’s pace,” as she put it—that’s definitely looking like 2015. 919 Divisadero St. at McAllister.

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The bar at Doc Ricketts. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.

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Doc Ricketts. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.

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The dining room at Doc Ricketts. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.

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The venue stage at Doc’s Lab. Photo: Dana Eastland. © tablehopper.com.

A report by Dana Eastland. The former Purple Onion space in North Beach has officially reopened as ~DOC RICKETTS~, as of Wednesday September 3rd. As previously reported on tablehopper, the owner is Christopher Burnett of Darwin Café, and he’s done quite a number on the historic location. The three-level space has been divided into two areas: Doc Ricketts, the restaurant, and Doc’s Lab in the lower level. The basement is where Purple Onion used to be, and it is still a performance space, with a full lineup of acts including comedy, music, and other acts.

As for the restaurant, it’s on the main floor and seats 32, with room for 8 at the bar. There is booth seating along the wall, with raw slab tables and glass light fixtures. The restaurant is named after Doc Ricketts, a marine biologist who inspired a character in John Steinbeck’s novels, and there is a touch of the maritime in the decor. One wall has a large vintage educational marine biology poster, and a painting of an octopus appears in another corner. Ricketts’ photo even appears over the bar. In the coming weeks, they will also be adding sidewalk seating.

In the kitchen, which is on the second floor, is chef Justin Deering (previously of 15 Romolo). His menu is focused on straightforward ingredients, carefully prepared with layers of flavor and texture to create something exciting and complex. The small plates selection is focused on vegetable and seafood dishes, including a cauliflower dish ($11) that sounds simple but includes three kinds of cauliflower, all prepared differently, and served with housemade vadouvan yogurt and vinaigrette made with sultana raisins. There is also a selection of housemade charcuterie ($7.50 each or $24 for a plate)—there’s a curing room on-site.

As for the main dishes, they are heartier, with choices like a pork chop with mustard, maple, and spaetzle ($26). There is also a burger made with short ribs and served with fries ($14), and a roasted chicken with liver toast, fingerling potatoes, and broccoli rabe ($22). Since a version of the menu will also be served in Doc’s Lab, there is a section of the menu devoted to snacks (all $6), which will also be nice at the bar. Take a look at the current menu here.

Speaking of the bar, it’s a small one, but they have a full liquor license and are serving classic cocktails (nope, not “with a twist”) like a Martinez (gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino, orange bitters) and a Vieux Carré (rye, Cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, bitters). The drinks are all pleasantly priced, at $9-$11. The wine list is small with five whites, one rosé, and six reds, all intended to pair well with the food. There are four beers on tap, as well: North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner, Big Daddy IPA, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Eel River Porter, plus a few more choices by the bottle. Here’s the beverage list. Charlie Brown, who was the restaurant manager at Prospect since it opened, is in charge of operations.

Doc’s Lab will offer a limited version of the menu when it opens on Friday September 12th, and also has its own bar. The calendar is booked for the next month already, including some literary events in partnership with nearby City Lights Bookstore, along with music, comedy, and even a magic show.

Restaurant hours are Sun-Wed 5:30pm-10pm, Thu-Sat 5:30pm-12am. Doc’s Lab will be open for events. 124 Columbus Ave. at Montgomery, 415-649-6191.