With the promise of a day off work on Friday, we couldn't help but start the weekend early with some Thursday night bar-hopping. Knowing that even our late-night sushi wasn't going to ward off the full effects of the fermented grape juice coursing through our veins, we smartly made brunch plans for Friday.
While most spots in Baltimore reserve brunch for Saturdays and Sundays, Miss Shirley's is one of the few local spots to serve up benedicts, waffles, and stuffed French toast alongside its sandwiches and salads every day of the week. After hitting snooze more than a few times, we finally got ourselves together and met up for noontime noshing at the Inner Harbor location (750 E. Pratt St.,  528-5373, missshirleys.com), leaving ample time to graze before its 3 p.m. closing.
The weekend crowds at both the Roland Park and Inner Harbor locations can leave potential diners with up to two hours of time to waste before being able to secure a table, but thankfully the weekday crowds are a little lighter, leaving a few tables still open both outside and in the dining room. We plopped down at a table near the front of the cafe, with a view of both the kitchen and a large flat screen running Food Network.
As steaming cups of Easton-based Rise Up coffee arrived alongside pretty mint-and-lemon-garnished iced tea, at least one member of our group couldn't ignore vodka's sweet siren song. The Spicy Shirley ($9.99), the cafe's rendition of a bloody mary using Deep Eddy citrus vodka, was quickly delivered to the table in an Old Bay-rimmed mason jar mug. It came with a garnish of skewered pickled okra, lime, lemon, red pepper, green tomato, and olive, as well as a slice of jalapeno and yellow pepper, and a neighboring diner couldn't help but ask if the cocktail was a salad or a beverage while we looked for an opening in between the vegetables to insert our straw. Rich in sweet tomato flavor, the thick bloody sported just the right kick of heat toward the end of a sip. Impressively, unlike so many other bloody marys that we've had, the drink maintained its form, resisting separation, for nearly the entirety of the meal.
With a menu as extensive as Miss Shirley's, decision-making, already complicated by hungover fuzziness, becomes a challenge, and breakfast envy becomes almost a certainty. Sure enough, as one friend's choice, the colorful Amy's Bagel ($16.99), hit the table, I was ready to ask for a swap. Thick slices of smoked salmon, hearty smears of cream cheese, bright yellow and red tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, red and green lettuce, slices of creamy havarti cheese, and tangy capers are all layered within a triple-sliced toasted plain bagel, making it a club-style breakfast sandwich so large it's served horizontally on the plate. Just half of the crunchy and creamy monstrosity is enough to subdue any appetite.
Not to be one-upped, the soft-shell feller benedict ($20.99) was a beauty. Crispy cornmeal-battered soft-shell crab, perched atop stone-ground grits with diced applewood bacon and mascarpone, sat between two toasted English muffin rounds smeared with tangy pimento cheese, each topped with shiny white poached eggs and a velvety hollandaise. Just a touch of chicken sausage gravy was a perfect addition to add a bit of necessary creaminess to the grits under which we found it hiding, and the intensely vinegary chow chow (pickled tomatoes and onions) added color to the plate while cutting through some of the richer flavors of the hollandaise as well as the gravy. We were slightly disappointed that our eggs were a touch overpoached, so the joy of yolk spillage that accompanies any eggs-benedict experience was a little dampened, but the flavors of the egg and hollandaise mixed with the tang of the pimento were still the perfect accompaniment to the crunchy soft-shell crab. (We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the management was immediately apologetic for the overpoaching and very generous in their response.)
The star of the sweet side of brunch was the strawberry cheesecake bites ($5.99). Five strawberry halves topped with a creamy mixture of goat cheese, cream cheese, and mascarpone, then dotted with a blueberry and sprinkled with graham cracker dust are probably one of the best ways we've seen yet to take the edge off that hungover hangriness.
Taking the prize for most outside-the-box brunch menu item was the ice cream sandwich ($11.99). In partnership with Hampden's popular ice cream shop The Charmery, Miss Shirley's is offering a seasonally inspired monthly ice cream "sandwich" with The Charmery's inventive creamy concoctions flanked by Miss Shirley's creatively flavored waffles. For June, cajun spiced waffles envelope fried green tomato ice cream, garnished with a side of one fried green tomato and a dollop of chow chow. We could take or leave the garnishes, but the waffles were pure heaven, with the ideal crunchy exterior and soft, fluffy insides, and the pistachio-colored ice cream was decadently creamy and sweet with just a hint of green tomato flavor imparted, at least partially, from actual small bits of fried green tomato in it that contributed a surprisingly pleasant texture. We struggled to detect the cajun spice in the waffles, but it really didn't matter—they were delicious as they were.
Other standouts on Miss Shirley's menu were the benne seed chicken 'n waffles ($14.99), with crisp chicken tenders drizzled with a bright yellow honey-mustard aioli atop cheddar green onion waffles covered in a brightly colored peppadew butter, and the Get Your Grits On ($18.99), which features three stacks of grits and jumbo blackened tail-on shrimp on a base of fried green tomato.
By the time our brunch came to a close, most of the other diners had gone (most likely heading back to work), leaving the perfect space to linger and chat over coffee, a luxury not often available during busy weekend brunches. Even so, while we were fortunate enough to garner a table immediately, we'd happily withstand a wait for brunch like this.