West Oakland’s downtrodden lots and graffiti filled walls may be a turn off for some, but for others it represents a hotbed of creativity with an underdog-on-the-cusp type of feeling to it. Sure you’ll see signs saying, “Do not feed the thieves. Please do not leave any personal property in your vehicle,” but the reality is that there are plenty of great grub spots (like Drip Line) to satiate your belly in the Bay Area’s up and coming version of Brooklyn.
One of the sweetest spots is located smack dab in the middle of the Bay Area in Oakland’s oldest neighborhood. For nearly a decade, executive chef Tanya Holland has been serving comfort food with a twist out of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, California.
The menu is filled with mouthwatering items like a smoked chicken and shrimp gumbo. There’s even a blackened catfish with roasted red pepper sauce and a Fulton Valley jerk chicken that is slathered in a house recipe made up of special spices.
The first thing that will undoubtably catch your eye though is the assortment of downright decadent pastries on display at the front counter as soon as you walk in the front door of Brown Sugar Kitchen.
Needless to say, we started off our smörgåsbord stating we’d definitely save room for dessert, but that didn’t last long after we laid eyes on the first item on the menu. The first item you’ll spy is buttermilk fried chicken served with a cornmeal waffle that’s topped with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup.
The crème de la crème of Holland’s talents are on full display once you take your first bite of her buttermilk fried chicken.
Made with a mix of sweet paprika, cayenne powder, garlic powder and an array of other spices, Brown Sugar Kitchen’s version has just enough kick to it to make it stand out from any other piece of fried chicken you’ve ever bitten into. You might wonder how we know what goes into Holland’s secret chicken. That would be because we bought her recipe book as soon as we devoured Brown Sugar Kitchen’s chicken. It seriously was hands down the best fried chicken we’ve ever had in our life. (Part of the magic, according to the recipe book, involves a buttermilk bath and a combo of fry panning and oven cooking these delicious nuggets.)
Holland earned her grande diplome from La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Burgundy, France. (Interestingly enough, La Varenne no longer offers degrees nor does it offer classes in France, but it is possible for budding chefs to take La Varenne classes from time to time in Los Angeles.) You can purchase Holland’s, “Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland,” cookbook on Amazon or in the restaurant. We’re looking forward to doing a trial run of Brown Sugar Kitchen’s down-home sweet potato pie for dessert this Thanksgiving and giving the burnt ends chili a whirl once the weather cools off.
Our next foray into Brown Sugar Kitchen’s menu was the pulled BBQ pork sandwich with spicy cabbage slaw. We added a side of Holland’s black eyed pea salad to the dish which complemented the sandwich perfectly. The fresh bread roll and the traditional tomato-based sauce made this sandwich the perfect lunch item.
After diving into a hefty lunch of what Holland’s crew dubs, “new style down-home” cuisine, our tummies admitted defeat. That didn’t stop us from carting a pair of Brown Sugar Kitchen’s delicious homemade Pop-Tarts home with us. We snagged a blackberry and a strawberry version and they tasted amazing heated up this morning in the toaster oven. (We’d say the blackberry version won by a nose.) Sadly the only disappointing part of our Brown Sugar Kitchen experience was finding out that the dang homemade Pop-Tart recipe wasn’t in the cookbook. (We’re secretly hoping that a lovingly crafted fan letter might get Holland to send said recipe our way.)
No reservations are accepted and guests are seated on a first come, first served basis. If you yearn to have bacon cheddar biscuits and sautéed collard greens at your next event or gathering in your backyard, Brown Sugar Kitchen does provide options by way of Blue Heron Catering.
Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, California 94607
Hours: Tuesday Through Saturday 7:00am to 3:00pm, Sunday 8:00am to 3:00pm
Phone: (510) 839-SOUL
Pricing (All in USD): Lunch Dishes $7.00 to $18.00, Sides $2.00 to $6.00, Sweets $3.00 to $4.50