Starting the day right at Miss Shirley's

Breakfast, lunch hit the spot in Roland Park

Sunday Gourmet

July 17, 2005|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Who knew that Roland Park was so starved for a place to have breakfast? ---Miss Shirley's is busy from the moment it opens its doors at 7:30 a.m. (7 a.m. on the weekends) to when it closes its doors at 3:30 p.m. (4 on the weekends), our waiter told us. I'm sure if owner Eddie Dopkin had realized people would be beating down his doors for the Belgian waffles and eggs Benedict, he would have put more than 50 seats in his retro cafe.

As I understand it, Dopkin -- also owner of Alonso's and Loco Hombre across the street -- bought the location because of its parking lot. Parking is in short supply in the area, as anyone who has ever stopped by Alonso's for a hamburger or Loco Hombre for Tex-Mex can attest.

When he decided to make use of the building as well, he didn't want to compete with his other places, so he decided to offer breakfast and lunch only, although his executive chef Brigitte Bledsoe, who once ran the kitchen of Tapestry in Fells Point, is perfectly capable of turning out fine dinner food.

Instead, she lavishes her talent on breakfast and lunch, producing delicious dishes with an upscale Southern accent. There are bayou omelets, fried green tomatoes and benne seed biscuits. If you order a side of applewood-smoked bacon, the three crisp slices will be sprinkled with chopped parsley and garnished with mache. Which is overkill when you think about it, but pretty.

Breakfast is served all day and includes well-done standards like eggs and pancakes. There are also a couple of elegant Benedicts, the poached eggs served with crab and corn hash or a sweet corn cake and a delicate hollandaise.

I wasn't wild about the grits, which get gussied up with heavy cream, mascarpone, bacon bits and chopped tomato. Grits don't need anything but butter, salt and pepper to my mind. But I loved the housemade biscuits and, most of all, the sweet potato fries: hot and crisp, served with a sprinkle of coarse salt and wrapped in a cone of black-and-white checked paper. Mango ketchup and citrus aioli come on the side, but you don't need them.

The only breakfast disappointment, and it wasn't serious, was the Belgian waffle, or I should say waffles, four miniatures. They were a bit dry, and I wasn't wild about the honey butter with syrup, which didn't have much maple flavor.

I thought this was a breakfast place, so I didn't have high hopes for lunch; but the noontime food turned out to be even better than breakfast. The one soup is Maryland crab, served so blazingly hot the cup was still steaming when the soup was almost gone. It was chockful of crabmeat, vegetables and fresh corn, plus plenty of spicy crab seasonings.

I also recommend the chopped salad, with mixed greens, buttery avocado slices, bacon, chunks of blue cheese and hearts of palm. You can get a cup of soup, salad and half a sandwich as a combo. My choice would be either chicken salad with fat chunks of white meat and almonds on a croissant or the Alonsoville, with roasted turkey, Brie cheese and slices of tart Granny Smith apples on chewy ciabatta.

The most spectacular sandwich on the menu is probably the extravagant smoked salmon club, with smoked salmon, bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and remoulade sauce layered on grilled pumpernickel and sourdough. It comes with either a small mixed green salad or cut up fruit, with a few fat blackberries thrown in for good measure.

The setting is slightly at odds with the elegance of the food. It's a nice, prettied-up diner look in raspberry and cream, with booths and tables placed too close together and '50s rock 'n' roll in the background. Nothing much wrong with it, but how much can you do with a space that was a former Hair Cuttery?

We had the same waiter, DeWayne, all three times we were there, and got very fond of him. His table service was excellent. Unfortunately, there's not always a sense of urgency at lunchtime about getting the tables bussed and the customers, who are waiting patiently in line, seated.

Miss Shirley, by the way, isn't involved with the restaurant. She was Shirley McDowell, a longtime employee of Classic Catering Co., the Dopkin family business. When she died last year, Eddie Dopkin decided to name his new place in her honor.

Miss Shirley's

Where: 410 W. Cold Spring Lane, Roland Park

Hours: Open every day for breakfast and lunch

Prices: $3.95 to $12.95

Call: 410-889-5272

Food: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)

Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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