Miss Shirley's Brings Decadent Breakfast To Downtown
In movies, people always seem to linger over breakfast. They sidle up to red leather and chrome stools for coffee and a newspaper in the local diner or share morning after lattes and muffins with tousled hair and shy grins in the corner cafe. No heart-healthy oatmeal or cereal on the run for these folks. No burnt bagels, jammy yogurt, or overripe bananas either. While breakfast at the new Miss Shirley's Café (750 E. Pratt St.,  528-5373) in the sunny southeast corner of the Constellation Energy building might not make you feel like a film character, it will certainly give you ample opportunity to eat like one.
As one of my dining companions pointed out, there are some restaurants that have only a couple things on the menu you'd want try. Miss Shirley's is not one of those places. You like eggs? You can have 'em poached, on a biscuit, with sausage gravy and chicken; deviled, with jumbo lump crabmeat; fried, in a sandwich, with fried green tomatoes and bacon; in an omelet, with andouille sausage or feta cheese and black olives or smoked salmon. Are you, like me, more of a carb hound? Try waffles or pancakes made with corn or buckwheat, baked with apples or dotted with chocolate, blueberries, or bananas. At Miss Shirley's French toast is an orgy of cream and mascarpone cheese, coconut, and more (!) bananas (sautéed this time), and oatmeal is never dreary, but gussied up with the likes of brown sugar, pecans, and heavy cream. Even yogurt gets transformed into a "breakfast banana split" with a sprinkle of house-made granola overtop a garnish of fresh fruit.
All of this doesn't come cheaply, and there are some who will complain, rightly, that a breakfast at Miss Shirley's is unusually expensive. But just as one ought not to eat scrapple or shredded potato and onion hash browns every day, one could carefully pick through Miss Shirley's offerings for less expensive and less extravagant options, like breakfast turkey sausage ($2.99) or a bagel with cream cheese ($2.99), though even those options aren't bargains.
But really, if you're out for breakfast, shouldn't you treat yourself, say with an order of sweet homestyle corn cakes ($3.99), so light they're almost frothy? (These same corn cakes take the place of an English muffin as the cushion for poached eggs napped in hollandaise sauce a la Benedict [$10.99], the most elegant of breakfasts.) Or order with abandon a cone of crispy sweet potato fries ($4.25), deep orange batons hot from the kitchen and served with a tangy mango ketchup and a creamy yellow citrus aioli? (The answer to both questions is yes.)
For those who can't decide, benne seed chicken 'n' waffles ($12.99) bridges the divide between breakfast and lunch (available after 11:30 a.m.), and though Miss Shirley's version is modified somewhat from its soul food origins, substituting boneless chicken breast pieces for wings and adding cheddar and green onion to the waffles, the result is still a savory comfort-food pleasure. The restaurant also updates the classic club sandwich with a Cape Cod version (market price) boasting layers of sliced lobster, avocado, and bacon, spread with Old Bay remoulade. It's a tasty combo, but if pressed, I'm not sure I would have identified the lobster, which gets overwhelmed by the fine bacon and Old Bay.
Only the Southern slammer ($7.99), fried green tomatoes, bacon, avocado, cheddar, and egg on pumpernickel, fell short. "I got the loser meal," the diner who ordered it lamented. The problem was greasiness, a result of too much butter, bacon, and fried egg. The mascarpone, cream, and chive-spiked savory grits ($4.99) ordered as a side, however, went a long way to make amends, as did the superb service handled by a veteran who kept cups full of warm drinks, offered welcome suggestions, and overall, let his customers set the pace of the meal.
Miss Shirley's downtown location mimics the same warm brown, red, and gold tones of the Alonso-ville location, but because the space is smaller, the whole room feels cozier, and two sides of wraparound windows fill the room with light. And while our server confided that the restaurant still wasn't too busy for weekday breakfast, by 1:00, the room was bustling with lunch business. I'm also betting that once the weather warms and the restaurant starts offering breakfast on the weekends (scheduled tentatively for April 2009), the place will be packed. It should be.