The Taste: Miss Shirley’s in Annapolis Delivers a Dynamic Recipe for French Toast
The recipe Chef Brigitte Bledsoe chose to showcase here is just one of ten recipes she prepared in her own home kitchen for Eddie Dopkin, when she interviewed for a job at the first Miss Shirley’s in Roland Park. It’s fascinating to get behind the scenes to learn how a chef “builds” the plate as you will see in some of the photos. Chef Brigitte was sure to tell me they only use the challah bread from Rosendorff’s Bakery in Baltimore for this dish.
The Coconut Cream Stuffed French Toast has been a hot item on Miss Shirley’s menu during Chef Brigitte’s reign. Since it is the 10-year anniversary for the Roland Park flagship restaurant, it is “front and center” at all three locations.
I had a great time talking with Brigitte as we chatted the food lingo while she gave me the inside scoop on how the dishes come-to-be at Miss Shirley’s. She even showed me the “plating” as shown in the photos.
It is known that your restaurants highlight an artistic flair. Please tell us about the background.Miss Shirley’s Cafes are artsy but comfortable and you can see the pride in them being family-owned and family-run to this day. I have had many of my staff start at the bottom of the restaurant business and work their way up. That is certainly true of the chef for Annapolis’ Miss Shirley’s, Chef Ubences Najera. The original Miss Shirley’s of Roland Park started out as a 42-seat breakfast spot. When Eddie hired me, it seemed we had the same vision. Soon, I found a new room would be added here and then another there. Now that location has 320 seats with a regular following, as well as the “place to be seen” for the breakfast business meeting. We’ve kept that arty style in the food and ambiance.
Your restaurants change menus seasonally, how do you come up with fresh menu ideas? How did you decide on your featured recipe?My team is like family and twice a year we go over to my house and brainstorm. Each person comes with a new idea that we discuss, taste, then compare notes. It’s a fun time and everyone has a big part in it. We may keep the same dish on the menu, but vary the topping seasonally.
How would you describe the style of food for all of the Miss Shirley’s restaurants?Our food definitely has a Southern slant with a good bit of fusion. It’s comfortably sophisticated. Right now with our 10-year anniversary, we are bringing back some of the best sellers of our first decade.
What was your background and training to become a chef?I had worked at many different Baltimore restaurants filling every position that exists. Then Eddie asked me how he would know if I qualified for a position at Miss Shirley’s. So I cooked and cooked for him, about ten different dishes that day. When I started at the 42-seat cafe, I did everything! Now, there are mainly management tasks that I handle, but I do the “expo” (meaning expediting) on weekends for 1,200 covers with a 10 to 12 minute ticket time!
Where do you get your inspiration when creating new recipes?No, I don’t follow magazines or television shows. Mostly I get great ideas from eating out and now in Baltimore, for the most part because I just had two back surgeries. Charleston’s is an all-time favorite. Hamilton Tavern is great, as well as Thames Oyster House. I might taste a dish and imagine how I would make it, adding my own spin.
What food ingredient are you most excited to cook with this year?I’m always a dedicated foodie for seafood-oysters in the winter, crabs and soft-shells in summer. I love all seafood so it’s always exciting to me. We have quite a large garden at the Roland Park Miss Shirley’s. I am so inspired by the golden and red beets we grow. For greens, I have always loved mache lettuce (lamb’s tongue). I never did jump on the kale bandwagon. But fresh parsley is so underrated in its nutritional content. We grow it and use it often. I call it “love.” Put a little “love” on every plate.
As a food writer, blogger, food stylist, photographer, Rita Calvert has partnered in writing cookbooks and developed product lines to showcase the inspiration, art and nourishment of food. She is an advisor for the food world. The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up! is her most recent book with co-author farmer, Michael Heller. After owning a successful restaurant in California, she has now been an Annapolis resident for close to 30 years.
All recipes courtesy Brigitte Bledsoe
Coconut Cream Cheese FillingYield: 2 and 1/2 cups
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together until well incorporated.
French Toast BatterYield: 3 cups
- 6 wholes eggs
- 1 and 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk mix eggs together. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together until well incorporated. Refrigerate until needed.
Coconut Cream Stuffed French ToastServes 5
- 1 (2 pound) loaf challah bread
- 2 and 1/2 cups coconut cream cheese filling
- 2–4 teaspoons canola oil
- 3 cups French toast batter
- 1/2 cup raspberry puree, in squeeze bottle
- 1 cup strawberries, diced
- 4 bananas
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- Butane torch
- Maple syrup
- Dust with cinnamon and powdered sugar
Slice Challah bread into five thick slices, about two inches thick. Take each piece and split the top open in the middle, creating a pocket. Stuff the pocket of each piece with about 1/2 cup of coconut cream filling.
Heat pan over medium heat and add canola oil to pan.
Dip each piece of stuffed toast into French toast batter, coating well. Place into hot pan and brown evenly on both sides (will take about 3–4 minutes on both sides). Make sure to heat through the middle.
On a serving plate drizzle some raspberry puree in a circular pattern. Sprinkle some of the strawberries on top. Repeat this for all five plates.
Cut each cooked French toast in half on a bias and shingle two halves on each plate. Cut bananas in a half and then split in half again down the middle. Place bananas cut side up on a sheet tray. Sprinkle bananas with sugar to coat evenly.
Using the torch, melt the sugar on bananas until golden in color. Be careful, bananas and sugar will be very hot. Move three pieces to each plate next to French toast. Sprinkle coconut across the top of each plate. Dust each French toast with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve with maple syrup.