Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Miss Shirley's Cafe, Baltimore MD

Baltimore is a city I did not know much about – sure, Hopkins is there, as is one of the best Aquariums in the world, and Camden – but it was never high on my list of places to visit. Deciding that we needed to add this Aquarium to the ever growing list it was up to me to find a suitable breakfast or lunch – asking around the options seemed bleak but a trusted source who knew my love of Bongo Room and Griddle Café suggested I’d “probably like” Miss Shirley’s…as a bonus is was less than half a mile from our destination, as well. While I will fully admit I have a soft spot for breakfasts that could double as dessert, there are some only a few places where the menu is just so smile-inducing that gluttony seems required – Miss Shirley’s was one of those places.

With a stiff wind and nearly horizontally moving rain inducing a run from the parking garage to the front door we arrived around 8:30am to find Miss Shirley’s approximately half full – greeted by a smiling manager at the door we were quickly led to a large booth, water was filled, and we were offered beverages. Opting for two coffees and two teas I can’t say there was anything terribly memorable about either – what was memorable was our server, a young man named Tim who kept our cups filled and bested the service of many waiters in the fine dining world throughout our meal – even if he didn’t warn us about just how indulgent our order would turn out to be.

Deciding on a couple of appetizers and a “main course” each we realized immediately on arrival of the appetizers that we’d over-ordered. Arriving first, in spectacular fashion, was Funky Monkey Bread – Cinnamon Pull-Apart with Bananas, Chocolate and Pecans, Powdered Sugar. Enormous, literally the size of a full-size Bundt cake pan, the buttery and yeasty dough was pure cinnamon roll. Topping the ring of flaky dough with sliced bananas, chopped pecans, and chocolate chips the center of the ring was filled with a chocolate and pecan dunking sauce – the entire dish excessive in every way.

The second appetizer – arriving along with the Monkey Bread – was a Mini Bundt cake Sampler with Red Velvet and Cream Cheese, Chocolate with Vanilla cream, and Lemon Blueberry with Lemon drizzle. To call these “mini” was accurate – assuming the reference point was the Monkey Bread, however each cake was twice the size of an average cupcake. With all three cakes providing different texture and taste we were assured all were baked from scratch using the owner’s original dessert recipe (appetizer indeed!) and each was quite tasty, warm from the oven. Cocoa nuanced and with a mildly sour cream cheese I liked the Red Velvet best while others fancied the Blueberry Muffin textured version paired with hints of lemon and what I believe was mint. The chocolate option was heavy and dark, akin to a Hostess Cupcake with better quality cocoa.

Still working on the appetizers after 15 minutes our mains began to arrive – not since Bongo Room would there be quite this many sweets on the table at once – Tim joked that we had our work cut out for us – I agreed.

Beginning with my option, listed at MP on the menu, the $18.99 Crab Cristo with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, Smoked Ham and Swiss Sandwiched between French Toast, Deep Fried until Crispy, Drizzled with Honey Mustard and Citrus Aioli, Dusted with Powdered Sugar and Old Bay. It is hard to gauge size from a picture, but suffice it to say that I have large hands and each half of the sandwich was thicker, longer, and wider than one of my hands. With vanilla loaded French Toast on each side, the bread was layered with a slice of cheese, then a slice of smoky ham, and finally stuffed full with fresh picked blue crab meat before being dipped in the deep fryer to form a golden and crunchy crust. Topping the dish with a combination of sweet sugar and savory Old Bay (I opted against the Honey Mustard) plus lemon and chive aioli there was a whole lot going on, but somehow it worked – it was fantastic and drew a humorous degree of curiosity from neighboring tables given its size…and more curiosity as to how “someone so skinny could eat so much.”

For my mother, a fan of coconut but already full from Eve the previous night, the plate du jour was Joyous Almond Cakes with Coconut, Chocolate Chip, Toasted Almond. As expected from the name the dish itself tasted like a warm cake made with melted Almond Joy candy bar. Excellent on its own I was surprised when Tim brought the syrup – pure maple from Vermont – and although my mother didn’t feel it was necessary the bites I tasted were very nicely complimented by the spicy and thick maple flavor. Despite not eating much of the appetizers (too full) mom managed only two of her three pancakes…my sister and I managed the rest.

My aunt’s options were decent, but not fantastic – in general she has an uncanny ability to order poorly at breakfast, mostly because she hates maple syrup and egg dishes and therefore attempts to fruit based options – even when those fruits are neither regional nor in season. Opting for two short-stacks of 2 pancakes her choices were Raspberry White Chocolate Pancakes and Upside Down Pineapple Cakes – Brown Sugar Caramelized Pineapple and Cinnamon. With fluffy buttermilk pancakes forming the base, these options were simply pancake + topping, and while both toppings were nicely done, both were rather tame and would have benefitted from more in-season fruit toppings. 1/2 of her Raspberry pancakes was the only thing that went back to the kitchen uneaten.

For my sister – the girl definitely knows how to order at breakfast – the choice was Coconut Cream Stuffed French Toast with Cream Cheese, Mascarpone, Flaked Coconut, Bruleed Banana, Powdered Sugar and Cinnamon. As large as my sandwich and equally golden brown the dish featured a whole banana, two enormous slices of bread, copious flaked coconut, and easily 3-4oz of the smooth and sweet cheese blend. Swimming in a sauce of Strawberry the flavor of this French Toast was fantastic – and aside from a couple bites shared with the family she managed it almost entirely on her own…a true maple syrup junky (see also our meal at Norma’s in NYC) she even topped this dish with it and actually, it made it even better.

Settling the tab and leaving an ample tip for Tim’s stellar service I asked him if they had a dessert menu – both he and the neighboring table cracked up. Filling out the comment card and dropping it out front I strongly suggested they consider building outside the Baltimore area – perhaps in Columbus Ohio – I hear there is an enormous college campus there and an extremely sub-par breakfast/brunch scene. Then again, perhaps it is better they stay in Baltimore – I quite like my wardrobe and don’t really want to have to buy pants with a bigger waistline.

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