I’m the type of food-obsessed person who reads dozens of Yelp reviews and scours the internet for opinions, menus, and photos before deciding on a place to eat. Normally. But because we’re trying to go to brunch everywhere, I’m not always perfectly caught up on the details of the places we visit. We gotta hit them all, so does it matter what the reviews say? You may well know the answer to this question, but in case you are at all in doubt, the answer is YES.
“I heard the owner won’t let you in if you’re wearing sunglasses,” Ann Marie told me as we stood ten people deep in line for the Red Door Cafe. It was 9:30, the advertised opening time for the restaurant, but the red door stayed closed. Ann Marie wasn’t really clear on the details, but had read more than I had about our latest brunch pick. I couldn’t imagine what this meant. What kind of restaurant discriminates based on eyewear? It made no sense. Oh, if only I’d read a couple Yelp reviews. I would have been slightly more prepared for the wild ride that was Sunday Morning Brunch on this crisp February morning.
The red door opened briefly around 9:38 am, and a man wearing VERY tight leggings came out, surveyed the crowd, and walked back inside, slamming the door behind him. Odd behavior, but we shrugged it off. When real opening time came at almost quarter to ten, the show really began. The cafe owner (Ahmed, if Yelp is to be believed?) did not let a single person over the threshold without inspection. He let the first 6 or so people in (in groups of 1 or 2. You can’t go to the Red Door Cafe with an entourage and expect a table. There simply isn’t room.) Halfway through the selection process, Ahmed shouts, “I can’t accommodate all of you today; there just isn’t space.” And at that point, I figure, there’s no way we’re getting in. Whatever this guy is judging on, I doubt we have it. I was already brainstorming where else we could conceivably get brunch in San Francisco now with the disadvantage of this delay.
The two ladies in front of us sang a rousing rendition of “Islands in the Stream” to gain entrance. Ann Marie and I were next up, and I started running through old tap dances in my head to see if I could still remember them. Luckily, Ahmed approached, saw our wide-eyed, innocent faces, and said we were fine to go on in. So to begin, this was the most nerve-wracking wait for a table I’ve ever experienced!
Inside, the Red Door Cafe definitely has character. Naked baby dolls and Barbies line the walls (and sit with you at your table), along with plenty of inappropriate photos and props. Ahmed shuts the door behind the lucky few who get tables, turning away the rest of the first wave of customers, and the party begins. The short-shorts-clad cafe owner let us know that he wants to be able to enjoy his job and therefore only picks people who look like they will be fun and open-minded to dine with him. So bravo to us. We passed the test.
Now, onto the main event: the food. You don’t know what to expect from a place where entrees have names like “Dump Your Wife and Lick My Pink Snatch,” (which is code for smoked salmon, Ann Marie’s favorite), but the food was tremendous. Ann Marie took a bite of her salmon and had no words, just a sweeping hand gesture to indicate deliciousness. And as for me…and as for me… the day’s specials included Oreo Chocolate Chip French Toast, which is a good idea ALWAYS. Last time with Dolce & Salato, I mentioned wanting to see a good twist on French Toast, and this is a fabulous one. Crumbled Oreos and hazelnuts on my breakfast pretty much had me singing praises.
Ahmed stops by at each table to say hello and hear your story. Everyone’s in a good mood, and why on earth would you take yourself seriously over brunch anyway? Things do get a little saucy, and if you have sensitive ears you might want to stay away, but really? I can’t believe more San Franciscans don’t talk about this place! It’s an adventure, and no mistake.
Near the end of the meal, Ahmed made an announcement. To PLEASE not bring everybody and their mother with you when you come to try the restaurant. Because even if you are cool and nice and brunch-approved, he will not let you in if he doesn’t like your companion. So this place truly is not for everyone. You run the risk of getting turned away at the door, and you are going to hear some words you may not be used to hearing so early in the morning (or really, ever, depending on what kind of people you know.)
Food is pricier than other brunches (almost $20 an entree, and to be fair my one critique is that I ordered my toast with berries and am pretty sure I was only given 2 to 3 in total), but so, so good. My French Toast could only be described as “awesome,” and for the whole experience of the line wait, the baby dolls, the raunchy banter, I have to recommend this place. If you think you’re going to love it, you probably will. Just remember not to show up in sunglasses or with Starbucks coffee in your hand, and hopefully you’ll get to try your own naughtily-titled dish at Red Door soon.
Red Door Cafe 1608 Bush St. (Between Gough and Franklin) 415.441.1564