“Comfort food with a twist” is the somewhat modest tagline at Wilma and Frieda. It’s comfort food twisted, dismantled, overhauled and reimagined.
Since opening her Palm Desert location in 2013, Kelly McFall has been racking up fans and awards for her creative, eye-catching breakfast and brunch offerings. She opened a second Palm Springs location in 2018, and even caught nationwide attention through Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
“I approach the menu two ways,” McFall said. “One is to take items that are familiar from your childhood and give them an upgrade. The second is to take items from high-end dinner houses and convert them into breakfast items.”
Those two approaches are evident across the menu, from decadently embellished pop tarts to breakfast shrimp and grits. It’s not unusual to see specials like prosciutto-wrapped scallops benedict, seared gnocchi and eggs, or filet and lobster benedict. They only use filet mignon at breakfast—even in the country fried steak.
“I wanted to be the little sister to the high-end dinner house,” McFall said. “You may have dinner plans someplace else, but tomorrow, you’ll be having breakfast at my place.”
McFall’s inspiration came from her childhood and her two Southern, food-loving grandmothers, Wilma and Frieda. They helped lead her to a lifelong career in the restaurant business. She was working as a director for Peet’s Coffee when she landed in Southern California and relocated to the Coachella Valley.
“The desert was always my fun vacation place,” she said, “I’d been filing away ideas for Wilma and Frieda for the previous 10 years when I started to notice the demographics changing here. With the growth of events like the tennis (tournament) and Coachella, I decided that this would be the time.”
When you first arrive at either of the two restaurants, you will inevitably pass by the display of homemade pastries. It’s an enticing display of brownies, bars, cakes and cookies—some mainstays, some unique one-offs. The pop tarts, in particular, have taken on a life of their own.
“It’s a treat everyone remembers from a box as a kid,” McFall said, “We thought: If we took really good pastry and fresh preserves, how good would that be?”
With her homemade jams and a flaky, shortbread-butter crust, the answer is simple: Fantastic! They’re served warm, then topped with crème anglaise and fresh berries. The Meyer lemon blueberry pop tart tops the sales, but McFall likes to get creative with different flavors and seasonal offerings.
Wilma and Frieda’s pastries have been such a hit that her pastry chef, Todd Konkol, had to move outside the restaurant.
“He’s been with me from the beginning,” said McFall, “At Palm Desert, he had to bake through the night, because there wasn’t room in the daytime.”
Realizing that her kitchen couldn’t take on the load of a second location, and wanting to maintain the same consistency, she encouraged Konkol to start his own business. As such, Konkol now continues to produce the same proprietary recipes that he and McFall created in the restaurant—just offsite.
“He’s so very, very talented. I eat better at his house than I do anywhere in town,” McFall said, adding that Konkol has catered for Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres and the Prince of Brunei.
The English muffins and pop tarts are still produced on-premise, as is pretty much everything else.
“Everything but the ketchup,” McFall said. “We source most of our products locally. It’s really important to me to select the highest quality. We have local honey. Our preserves are made in-house. My coffee, from Koffi, is a private blend I personally selected.”
My own breakfast go-to is the short rib eggs benedict.
“Nobody was doing that when we first opened,” said McFall. Now common across breakfast restaurants, Wilma’s version is unparalleled. It’s a quality short rib, homemade English muffin, and a signature lighter, fluffier hollandaise sauce. The latter is achieved through a process of egg separation that I won’t divulge here.
Second on my list is the “griddled” meatloaf and eggs. It’s a rustic, barbecue-style meatloaf that’s browned on the grill prior to serving.
“I started with my grandmother’s recipe,” McFall said. “It took me 19 attempts to get to the recipe we’re serving.” One of her secrets: She uses Ritz crackers instead of breadcrumbs for a more-buttery flavor. It’s not exactly a secret, as the meatloaf is one of several recipes available on request. At breakfast, it’s served with eggs, while the lunch menu uses it as a melt, and the Palm Springs location has converted it into a dinner entrée.
Another dinner item that made its way onto the breakfast menu is the shrimp and grits. The shrimp are large prawns—larger than you’d expect on a breakfast plate.
“I want you to see the shrimp. I want you to taste it. I want you to know it’s good,” McFall said.
The grits explode cheesy flavor. “Some people are skeptical of grits, so I’ll offer them a sample. They’ll say ‘wow’ and ask if this is how grits are everywhere, and I’ll say: No, they’re not!”
Other house specialties include a biscuits and gravy loaded with chunky pieces of sausage and pecan-wood bacon; a chili verde pork and brie omelet; and a hearty bangers and onion rings benedict. That’s in addition to the forementioned filet mignon country fried steak, available in Palm Springs.
And then there’s the “Sweeter Side” of the menu. There, you’ll find crowd-pleasers like the churro waffle topped with crème anglaise, and a French toast made “bread pudding style” then topped with custard and blackberries.
While the breakfast and brunch items have been the impetus behind Wilma and Frieda’s reputation, the menu includes lunch items like salads, sandwiches, melts and burgers. Try the short rib melt or the chicken breast sandwich with crispy mustard bacon.
“That bacon is like a Scooby snack,” McFall said. “It’s baked with brown sugar, Japanese red chili peppers and mustard.”
The burgers are great, too. They use an elevated, rich short-rib-and-chuck blend, sourced from an award-winning New York butcher.
A dinner program was added at the Palm Springs location. It’s been a stop-and-start affair that just relaunched this October. Highlights include the baby-back ribs, the short rib ravioli, and Whiskey River chicken, as well as dinner versions of established house favorites like the shrimp and grits.
Whether you’re visiting Wilma and Frieda early or late, bring your appetite. All dishes are hearty and fulfilling—and you’ll probably want to save room for those fresh-baked pastries and desserts. Thanks to the elaborate reimagination of the dishes and a specials board that’s always pushing new trends, it’s no wonder that this establishment has caught the eyes of a nationwide audience.
For more information, visit wilmafAnrieda.com.