Tables brimmed with plates of catfish and grits and French toast sandwiches packed with scrambled eggs and country ham. A line snaked outside the restaurant and into the adjoining market, where one can find scented candles, SugarJam T-shirts, and artwork depicting bottles of tequila and gin near a neon sign that reads, “Brunch ‘N Vibes.”
A two-hour wait at the popular Southern restaurant off Hayden Road south of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard has become customary for the weekend, says owner and chef Dana Dumas. She hates turning hungry customers away from her business, which originally opened about a mile away as SugarJam Bake Shop & Bistro in 2014.
As the business grew, Dumas realized it was time for a bigger space, 5,300 square feet to be exact, which she found at the current restaurant which debuted in January 2021.
”Luckily, I already had loyal customers who followed me down the street to my new location. So I took the plunge on a bigger space, but I counted on that business and it ended up working out really well,” Dumas says.
Old and new customers come to enjoy Southern comfort food like Creole Shrimp N’ Southern Grits topped with seasoned crab and buttermilk fried chicken tenders served with flapjacks.
On a recent trip, the grits were rich and buttery, topped with spicy pan-seared shrimp, sauteed red bell peppers and onions, and fried crab croquettes. Two eggs, any style, come on the side.
The buttermilk fried chicken comes with French toast, waffles, or the server-recommended pancakes. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, the fried chicken was salty, spicy, and adorned with a barbecue glaze. It paired perfectly with slow-scambled eggs, three semi-sweet pancakes topped with powdered sugar, and a side of maple syrup. Get a bit of all three on your fork for the perfect bite of sweet, salty, buttery, fluffy goodness.
An SJ Cherry Pie was the ideal way to end the soulful meal. The personal pie was at once sweet and tart with a golden brown crust, and could easily be shared with a friend.
Dumas recently added frozen treats made by Doc’s Artisan Ice Creams to her offerings, served from an ice cream trailer parked outside. Ice cream flavors include peach cobbler and bourbon pecan, infused with SugarJam’s house-made pies. Sassy Cones makes artisan waffle cones to hold the ice cream, with flavors including original, red velvet, peanut butter, and chocolate.
Though Dumas didn’t attend culinary school, she grew up eating and cooking with her father, who taught her to notice distinct flavors at the Manhattan eateries they frequented.
“My dad took me to nice restaurants as a kid and I remember people being surprised that I was so well-behaved,” Dumas says. “But that’s how I was brought up, to eat quality food in nice restaurants among adults. My parents didn’t raise me on chicken nuggets and pasta.”
She later worked in corporate retail and hospitality but kept her passion for food alive, baking cookies for friends and family gatherings to overwhelmingly positive feedback. In 2011, she started selling cookies at the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market. People responded well and Dumas decided to open her bakeshop a few years later, catering and serving baked goods and brunch to voracious customers.
When business shifted during the pandemic, Dumas sustained the restaurant through takeout. She recalls selling out of Friday specials, when people wanted to enjoy a nice meal with their families at home.
Now, the restaurant is back in full swing, she says. A weekend visit means a rowdy crowd, dancing and singing along to pop and rhythm and blues. The dining room is packed full of patrons enjoying their brunch while the DJ sets the lively and celebratory tone. Some tables are occupied by families with small children and others feature friends sipping on mimosas and margaritas.
But weekdays provide a calmer atmosphere where the focus is on the Southern brunch food that made SugarJam so popular, with cherry and bourbon pecan pies to boot. Ray Charles plays in the background.
“I definitely encourage older guests and those looking for a quieter experience to come in during the week, but if you really want a good time with the music, energy, and of course, the food, make a reservation in advance and come by on the weekend,” Dumas says.
Mimosas keep the party going during weekend brunch, from the Pamplemousse Dream with Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka to the Southern Sunrise Mosa with tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. Specialty cocktails include a Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita with a Tajín rim and a Smokin’ Raspberry & Blue Lemonade with blueberry moonshine and a sprig of smoked rosemary.
”I just want everybody to come in, eat some home-cooked food, and have a good time,” Dumas says. “Grab an art print from the market or a scoop of ice cream after your meal. We have something for everybody.”
SugarJam The Southern Kitchen
15111 North Hayden Road, Suite 170, Scottsdale
Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.