Dining Out: Miss Shirley’s moves downtown but remains down-home

Written by on July 29, 2009 in Baltimore Bites - No comments

Miss Shirley’s began life in a cute, coffee shop-sized space in the Alonsoville section of Roland Park. In record time, the fetching little breakfast-and-lunch place—and chef Bridgette Bledsoe’s updated Southern comfort food menu—had been discovered. More people wanted to eat at Miss Shirley’s than could fit in the door.
So it moved into much larger quarters across the street. And still there were lines. Even after an expansion there was a surplus of customers cooling their heels, waiting for a chance to eat Bledsoe’s homemade benne seed biscuits and sweet corn cakes.
Eventually there was a second Miss Shirley’s, in the ultramodern Constellation Energy Building at the Inner Harbor, with plenty of warm-toned inside space, an outdoor café, and a batch of overflow tables in the building’s spacious lobby.
So what happened when we stopped into the new branch recently for brunch? You guessed it. We were handed a pager and told that there would be a 25-minute wait. I guess there will never be enough Shirley to go around.
I don’t usually bother with restaurants with pagers and no-reservations policies. In this case, though, I was definitely willing to wait, even in a lobby. (With this sort of  food, shouldn’t there be a verandah, and ceiling fans?)  I’ve never had a bad morsel at Miss Shirley’s and in this case much more was in store: the world’s best sandwich.
Others might quarrel with this, but the “Not So Po’ Boy”—this place is partial to cutesy nomenclature—was definitely the yummiest thing I’ve eaten between two slices of bread, at least in recent memory.
First things first, though. The soup of the day ($3.99 for a cup), was a heartier than usual creamy broccoli, equal parts veggie wholesomeness and cheesy decadence. A platter of three potato cakes ($3.99)—which might serve as a meal in themselves to someone of daintier appetites than my husband’s—had an unexpected richness for what might be deemed simple peasant food. They were accompanied by a dollop of extra-thick sour cream and a welcome cluster of mache greens.
The shrimp and grits dish, called “Get Your Grits On” ($16.99), was a must. Bledsoe’s savory, mascarpone-enriched grits are a marvel in themselves, and here they were further glorified with applewood-smoked bacon and a luscious beurre blanc-like sauce flavored with sweet corn. Topping all of this were huge blackened shrimp and rounds of fried green tomato. A Southern trifecta.
But even that dish was put in the shade by the po’ boy, which filled its fine ciabatta with the plumpest of soft-shell crabs, the tastiest of greens, the freshest and most flavorful of tomatoes, and more of that wonderful bacon, all lightly moistened with Old-Bay-touched remoulade. It was pure alchemy. And while the “market price” tag gave us pause, the resultant $16.99 was more than worth it for something that scrumptious.
There are no desserts, per se, but there are plenty of diet-busting sweets, including (yikes!) raspberry cheesecake-stuffed French toast. Looking for them is one of the pleasures of perusing a menu on which everything looks worth sampling.

Miss Shirley’s
750 E. Pratt Street
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and brunch daily
Phone: 410-528-5373
Prices: Specialties $6.99-$21.95,
sandwiches $8.99-$15.99

The Latest Dish…
There’s good news and there’s bad news this week. Good news first, okay? This summer’s Baltimore Restaurant Week is on its way! From August 7 to 16 – yes, this “week” is ten days long – participating restaurants will offer a variety of prix-fixe three-course meals for $30.09, with some also adding $20.09 lunches. More than 100 restaurants are involved, so your favorite is likely to be on the list. There will be an emphasis on Maryland farm products this time. For details on the restaurants, and some special events and promotions, check out www.baltimorerestaurantweek.com. Now for the bad news. The Bicycle won’t be on the list. Owner/chef Nicholas Batey has closed the longtime SoBo favorite and critical darling. Batey can’t be too bummed about the economy though; his new restaurant, Ullswater, is still a work in progress.

—by Lynn Williams

Bean Pickers’ Dance
Here’s a local tradition for you, just rooted in the old days. The Polish Home Club, 510 S. Broadway, will host its annual Bean Pickers’ Dance on Sunday, Aug. 9, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Tickets are $19 and include dinner of string bean soup and fried bologna, dessert and open bar. Music by Joy of Maryland. Info/tickets: John, 410-325-2269.

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