On a brisk and cold December Sunday morning in San Francisco, there are quite a few brunch options within city limits. Some mornings, you feel like having a hot bowl of chicken soup; other mornings, you crave the traditional American breakfast and brunch fare.
This past Sunday, I finally visited Ella’s, a restaurant in my neighborhood that I have driven by for a long time. Located at the corner of California and Divisadero, I visit the bar across the street “Swank” often, but Ella’s business hours have prevented me from trying their food.
At a little past 1:40 PM on a Sunday, the place was still at capacity, which was surprising considering they close at 2 PM. We were second in line after another couple. Within five minutes, we were seated by the window.
Ella’s has a beer and wine license, but apparently no hard liquor license. The first thing I noticed, since I was craving a Bloody Mary, was that theirs was made out of Soju (which isn’t considered hard alcohol); this would also not suffice to satisfy my craving. I decided to order the other obligatory brunch drink: fresh-squeezed orange juice.
I had read somewhere else that Ella’s serves blood orange juice, but this morning, it was just a glass of regular oranges. For some reason, fresh-squeezed orange juice always reminds me of hotel room service. It’s just one of those things that make you nostalgic and happy from sip one. Ella’s orange juice was good, but not as cold as I’d have liked.
Over the last couple of years, I had always heard of Ella’s Chicken Hash, so my mind was already made up to order this as it seems to be their signature dish. Mr K ordered the omelette, and we decided to share an order of the banana pancakes. Both of us opted for Ella’s fresh biscuits.
Our server was a lovely woman who was friendly, and quite perfect for a Sunday afternoon. She made sure we were taken care of and wanted for nothing, but left us on our own the remainder of the time. She took our order, and within 15 minutes, we had our food.
First, let’s talk about the pancakes.
They were cooked well, and really generous in portion. The original order comes as three pancakes, but Ella’s allows for a single or double pancake order for those who just want a side order. We opted for the two-pancake order. The butter was melting off the top, and we were given the maple syrup.
I will say off the bat that the pancakes were good and fluffy, the way pancakes should be. We had ordered banana pancakes, and you could smell and taste the fresh bananas. Where I was a bit dismayed was the maple syrup. For whatever reason, it was a bit too watery, and I’ve had better flavor in store-bought syrup. I expect the syrup to stir in me thoughts of drinking it on its own, and this syrup didn’t have that aroma or consistency.
Next up was Mr. K’s breakfast: the “Folded Omelette w/ Bacon, Mushrooms and Onions with Muenster Cheese”. I believe it also had rosemary and coriander in it.
Presentation was nice, and the home fries were cooked properly. I had a taste, and it was seasoned well. Combined with the biscuit, it made for a good brunch item.
Though it was appealing in theory – I made a mental note that this is about as good as I could make an omelette. I don’t know about everyone else, but when I go to a restaurant, I want SOMETHING that makes me think, “This is why I am eating out. This is why I cannot cook this at home.” In this case, while the dish was good — it also didn’t warrant the $12 cost for something that could be fixed at home for under $3, technically. That said, Mr. K liked the dish, and that was good enough for me.
Finally — the famous Ella’s Chicken Hash.
Was it good? Yes.
Could I make it at home? No, probably not.
Did it blow my mind? No.
The concept was nice — rotisserie chicken mixed into a hash mix of sorts, served up with eggs cooked in whichever way your heart desired. I had opted for eggs over-easy – and Ella’s cooked that to perfection; they were moist and hot. But it’s a good thing the eggs were moist because the hash was a tad dry and a bit dense. I needed that egg yolk to soften up the mixture a bit.
Seasoning was acceptable, but the texture and flavor both left something to be desired. I’m also not too thrilled about the idea of chicken for breakfast/brunch, and am not entirely positive it belongs on a breakfast menu. Fried chicken is one thing; shredded rotisserie chicken mixed into a hash, served with eggs just doesn’t really excite my palate, I suppose. It wasn’t a bad dish at all — I finished it; it was just not the perfect breakfast item, and I can’t agree with all the rage about Ella’s Chicken Hash.
My experience at Ella’s on this lovely Sunday afternoon was nonetheless a pleasant one. The service and company will often make up for what the food lacks, and in Ella’s case, this was exactly the case. Nothing I had at Ella’s was bad – and I would not hesitate to recommend it for a brunch spot. In fact, I will most likely go again soon. But next time, I’m going to try something different. I remember an open-face omelette with Dungeness crab, ricotta and asparagus on the menu — perhaps that?
Ella’s is located at 500 Presidio at California. Their website has their daily menu. They have slightly bizarre hours of operation as they open later and close later on the weekdays (7 AM – 3 PM), and open for shorter hours during what should be the more popular weekend hours (8:30 AM – 2 PM). When you enter, make sure to get your name on the waiting list and someone will seat you when it’s your turn. The setup is quaint and the place it clean. I suspect the remainder of their menu is indeed quite delicious, and I find that I am excited to go back. The vibe is very casual, with a “neighborhood restaurant” feel. It’s perfect to go to Ella’s dressed in a warm cap, sweats and a jacket — ready to eat, then come back home for a nap.
Addictive Factor: 6/10
<strong>Overall Rating: 6.6/10</strong>
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.