Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland

Tanya Holland will be signing copies of  Brown Sugar Kitchen at Books Inc. in Alameda (Fri/12, 7-9 pm), The Gardener in Berkeley (Sat/13, 11 am-1 pm), Market Hall in Oakland (Sat/13, 3-5 pm), The Left Bank in Larkspur (Sun/14, 12:30-2:30 pm), and Chronicle Books in San Francisco (Mon/15, 3-4 pm) this week.

Brown Sugar Kitchen is more than a restaurant. This soul-food outpost is a community gathering spot, a place to fill the belly, and the beating heart of West Oakland, a storied postindustrial neighborhood across the bay from San Francisco.

The restaurant is a friendly beacon on a tree-lined parkway, nestled low and snug next to a scrap-metal yard in this Bay Area rust belt. Out front, customers congregate on long benches and sprawl in the grass, soaking up the sunshine, sipping at steaming mugs of Oakland-roasted coffee, waiting to snag one of the tables they glimpse through the swinging doors. Deals are done, friends are made; this is a community in action. In short order, they’ll get their table, their pecan-studded sticky buns, their meaty hash topped with a quivering poached egg. Later in the day, the line grows, and the orders for chef-owner Tanya Holland’s famous chicken and waffles or oyster po’boy fly. This is when satisfaction arrives. I certainly get loads of satisfaction from using the oyster knife for a good while, I guess the anticipation mounting aids the delicious treat about to be had.

Brown Sugar Kitchen , the cookbook, stars 86 recipes for re-creating the restaurant’s favorites at home, from a thick Shrimp Gumbo to celebrated Macaroni & Cheese to a show-stopping Caramel Layer Cake with Brown Butter–Caramel Frosting. And these aren’t all stick-to-your-ribs recipes: Tanya’s interpretations of soul food star locally grown, seasonal produce, too, in crisp, creative salads such as Romaine with Spring Vegetables & Cucumber-Buttermilk Dressing and Summer Squash Succotash. Soul-food classics get a modern spin in the case of B-Side BBQ Braised Smoked Tofu with Roasted Eggplant and a side of Roasted Green Beans with Sesame-Seed Dressing. Straight-forward, unfussy but inspired, these are recipes you’ll turn to again and again.

Rich visual storytelling reveals the food and the people that made and make West Oakland what it is today. Brown Sugar Kitchen truly captures the sense—and flavor—of this richly textured and delicious place.

(Editor’s note: We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore, but for your convenience, you may also use our affiliate links for IndieBound and Amazon to purchase Brown Sugar Kitchen . Purchasing via these links will support EatDrinkFilms.)

Reprinted with permission from 
Brown Sugar Kitchen by Tanya Holland with Jan Newberry, © 2014. Published by Chronicle Books. Photography © 2014 by Jody Horton.

Creole Shrimp and Grits

Serves 4

Creole food is city food, slightly more rarefied than its rustic Cajun cousin, with roots that reach back to Louisiana’s French colonists. You can certainly see the French connection in this recipe—the base of the sauce is a brunoise (finely diced vegetables), the sauce itself is a reduction that’s mounted with butter, and the shrimp is cooked with a quick sauté … très française, n’est pas? One not-so-French element here is the Hefeweizen I use in the Creole sauce. Its light, citrusy flavor intensifies as it reduces and helps cut some of the richness of this luxurious dish. This dish has quite a following at BSK; it’s a popular item on our breakfast and brunch menu, but it’s equally at home on the dinner table.


2 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup/40 g diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup/40 g diced red bell pepper
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Creole Spice Mix (recipe follows)
1 1/2 lb/680 g medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3/4 cup/180 mL Creole Sauce (recipe follows)
1/4 cup/60 mL heavy cream
2 tbs unsalted butter
5 oz/140 g baby spinach leaves
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
White Cheddar Grits (recipe follows) for serving

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the green and red bell peppers, green onions, garlic, and the Creole Spice Mix, and cook until the vegetables are softened, about five minutes. Add the shrimp and sear just until opaque, turning once, about two minutes. Stir in the Creole Sauce, cream, and butter, and bring to a simmer. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring to wilt and coat with sauce. Once all the spinach has been added, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Serve immediately over the grits.

Creole Spice Mix

Makes about 1 1/2 cups/ 200 g


3 tbs kosher salt
3 tbs herbes de Provence
3 tbs ground cumin
1/3 cup/45 g cayenne pepper
1/4 cup/30 g freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup/30 g sweet paprika

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, herbes de Provence, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, and paprika until thoroughly combined. (To make ahead, store in an airtight container for up to six months.)

Creole Sauce

Makes about 1 cup/ 240 mL


1 tbs unsalted butter
2 green onions, white parts only, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 12 oz/360 mL bottle wheat beer, such as Hefeweizen
3/4 cup/180 mL Worcestershire sauce

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the green onions and garlic, and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the beer and Worcestershire sauce and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced to about 1 cup/240 mL, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. (To make ahead, refrigerate sauce in an airtight container for up to one week.)

White Cheddar Grits

Serves 4


2 3/4 cups/660 mL water
2/3 cup/95 g quick-cooking grits
2 tbs heavy cream
2 tbs unsalted butter
4 oz/115 g sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of white pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Whisk in the grits, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until the grits are fully cooked and thick like mush, about four minutes. Stir in the cream, butter, cheese, salt, and white pepper.

Cover and keep warm over very low heat until serving.



Roasted Green Beans with Sesame-Seed Dressing

Serves 6

I can get a little bored with green beans. I really enjoy them mixed with other vegetables in salads, but alone I think they need some finesse. Sesame seeds made their way into the Southern kitchen with the slaves who were brought here from Africa. Often called benne seeds in the South, they were one of the many exotic ingredients brought to this country that we now take for granted. Photographer Jody Horton and his team thought these made excellent finger food.


3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup/120 mL extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs Champagne vinegar
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs sesame seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb/455 g green beans, trimmed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C and set a rack to the top position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, oil, vinegar, tahini, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes. Add the green beans and toss until evenly coated. Season with salt and black pepper.

Spread the beans in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Spiced Sweet Potato Bundt Cake

Serves 12

Sweet potatoes and chocolate chips seem like an unlikely combination, but they work really well together. I like to tell myself that the sweet potatoes help make the cake a nutritious snack as well as a sweet one. If you want to gild the lily, drizzle with Chocolate-Chicory Sauce (below). If you like baking cakes, it’s worth investing in a nice Bundt pan. They’re a simple way to make pretty cakes.


1 1/2 lb/680 g orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
3 1/3 cups/420 g all-purpose flour
2 cups/400 g sugar
1 tbs baking soda
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 tbs ground allspice
1 tbs grated nutmeg
1 tbs ground ginger
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 eggs
1 cup/225 g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups/340 g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter and flour a 12 cup/ 2.8 liter Bundt pan.

In a medium pot, cover the sweet potatoes with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cooked sweet potatoes and eggs on medium speed until smooth. Add the melted butter and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined. Remove the workbowl from the mixer and, with a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.

Bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely in the pan, about one hour. Loosen the cake from the pan using the tip of a dinner knife, then invert a rack over the pan and turn the cake out onto the rack.

Serve at room temperature.

(To make ahead, cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to three days.)

Chocolate-Chicory Sauce


10 oz/280 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups/360 mL heavy cream
1/2 cup/120 mL brewed chicory coffee, such as Café du Monde brand
1 cinnamon stick

To make the sauce: Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, coffee, and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate. Let stand, undisturbed, for about two minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick, then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is blended and smooth. Keep in a warm place while you make the beignets.



Tanya Holland is the executive chef and owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ in West Oakland, CA. For more about Tanya, go to

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