I have a new favorite restaurant in Baltimore - and it's not even open for dinner. Plus, it's located in an old Hair Cuttery building. Oh, and it doesn't take reservations (which I usually HATE.)
Somehow, though, I'm able to overlook all of Miss Shirley's drawbacks. I've made the not-very-long trek down to the Roland Park/Loyola area for brunch the past two Sundays and I've spent this week, so far, trying to think of a way to convince Cooper that we should go out to breakfast again this weekend. It's that good.
Miss Shirley's is on Cold Spring Lane just across the street from Alonso's and Loco Hombre (which I happen to think serves the best salsa in Baltimore) - the three restaurants share the neighborhood, a tiny, tiny parking lot, and an owner. Its space was, until fairly recently, a Hair Cuttery, and the shape of the building belies that fact. Otherwise, however, the decor is warm and sort of charmingly Restoration Hardware-retro with lots of old black and white photos of Baltimore and fresh flowers on every table.
The lack of reservations is definitely the biggest drawback to Miss Shirley's, especially since it is perpetually busy. The past two Sundays, though, have been beautiful, making the wait itself not so tough. My first visit was with Alicia and Jen - we managed to talk ourselves straight through a twenty minute wait while sitting in the heated tent that serves as a makeshift foyer for the restaurant. And this week, Cooper and I took a 15 minute walk around the neighborhood after we put our name in, so we barely sat at all.
And if the wait is the drawback, it's the food that's the draw. Miss Shirley's is only open for breakfast and lunch, but it's amazing what the chef does with those two meals. On my first visit, we all had lunch - I had a simple grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, served on challah bread with a bowl of nicely ripe fresh fruit. Nothing complicated, but the sandwich was served with an amazing fresh salsa accompaniment and was, basically, everything you might hope for in a grilled cheese.
Still, though, as I left the restaurant, I eyed the other diners' meals and was a little disappointed in my selection. Not because it wasn't delicious...but because I am a little obsessed with dessert for breakfast and Miss Shirley's does that very well. So this past Sunday, my plan was to order the coconut and cream cheese french toast. I didn't, though. The menu got in the way.
The menu at Miss Shirley's is comprehensive. Not quite as comprehensive as your run-of-the-mill Jersey turnpike diner, but substantial enough to fill two sides of an 11x17 sheet - with small print. I ended up with one of the seasonal selections - challah french toast served with lemon poppyseed cream and blueberries.
And it was amazing. The cream was lemony but had a tinge of sweetness - heavy, slightly whipped cream is rarely so refreshing. At first glance I was disappointed that I wasn't served more blueberries, but as it turns out, the chef knows more than I do. I had one or two berries per bite. Perfect.
Cooper had a gigantic seafood omelette with huge chunks of crabmeat. I know, I know. It was Asian crab. But still. It's breakfast.
We also split an order of the savory grits. The Baltimore Sun reviewer I linked to at the top wasn't into the grits - but he admits that he's a purist. Me, not so much. And we both thought they were fantastic - bacony and cheesey and creamy and lightened up just a big with chopped tomatoes. Highly recommended, if you like that sort of thing.
And while the food is the main attraction, the service is pretty decent, too. Nothing special, but it certainly doesn't detract from the experience. Despite the line of waiting diners outside, those lucky enough to be seated never feel rushed.
Verdict: The only question is, what will I order next week? Maybe the German apple pancakes. They smell great. Or the Belgian waffles with espresso cream. Or maybe I will get to the coconut cream cheese. So many reasons to go back...
UPDATE: I've been reminded by reader Julie and a friend of mine that Miss Shirley's does have it's not-so-perfect dishes, too. Namely, the biscuits and gravy. Apparently they are not particularly subtle or sublime. So avoid them.
However, I still stand by my overall recommendation. Possibly even more so now: last Sunday, Cooper and I had brunch with his parents. Unfortunately, the wait at Miss Shirley's was a full hour, so we tried Loco Hombre. It's just across the street and does have the same owner...but definitely not the same chef. The brunch wasn't bad, but it was no Miss Shirley's. And despite the nearly empty restaurant, the service was horrendous. Not the worst ever experience overall, but certainly not great, either.
ADDED: Urbanspoon's Miss Shirley's page: