When a new eatery opens in a small town or hamlet, you’re always rooting for it to do well, to become a beloved local fixture. But eating at the new Shirley’s Café, occupying the home of the former Jonesville Store, felt like rooting for the New York Islanders: We wanted so badly for them to do well, but on this occasion, at least, they came up short.
We were seated in the cozy dining room on a recent Sunday morning, surrounded by various bits of homey bric-a-brac, and we ordered drinks as we perused the breakfast menu. Glasses of water arrived in canning jars, very quaint, while my husband’s hot chocolate arrived overflowing its mug.
I ordered the potato pancakes, listed on the menu as coming with link sausages and two eggs, which I ordered over medium. My husband decided on the Country Breakfast, consisting of two eggs any style (he asked for egg whites with cheese), bacon, sausage, home fries, a pancake and toast (he opted for an English muffin), and he also ordered a side of Montreal smoked meat, one of their French-Canadian specialties.
WHERE: 989 Main St., Jonesville; 406-5177
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays
OTHER INFO: MasterCard, Visa and Discover accepted
Oddly, our server stopped to ask how my husband wanted his egg whites cooked — does anyone serve them any way other than scrambled? — but he did not ask what kind of cheese he wanted, nor did he ask me how I wanted my eggs — I had to pipe up and tell him as he started to walk away.
Minuted passed, and our food arrived ... well, some of it, anyway. My potato pancakes showed up with eggs but without sausage; a fellow server who was helping deliver our food noted he had apparently written down my order as a single order of potato pancakes, not the full breakfast. She promised to go get the sausages, and meanwhile, we tucked into the rest.
While we ate, we started noticing other oddities. The egg whites did come with cheese, but we couldn’t readily identify what kind, except that it was white and stringy, not the American or cheddar my husband was expecting (common default cheese options at most eateries). Meanwhile, his English muffin was served dry, which is highly unusual — toast should always be buttered in the kitchen, since the butter melts best when the toast is hot — and isn’t buttered toast the default, while dry is a special request? It wasn’t just us; we overheard a man at the table next to us complaining of dry toast and asking our server for butter.
It was then we noticed my husband had been brought neither butter nor syrup, despite the fact that a pancake came with his meal. How do you not bring butter and syrup with an order of pancakes? We got both butter and syrup once we asked, but we shouldn’t have had to ask.
Some of these issues, like the dry toast, would have been the kitchen’s fault, but honestly, a good server is like, well, like a copy editor: They should be the last line of defense, the ones who notice when something on the tray of food they’re carrying is missing or wrong before it gets to the table. And serving a pancake without syrup, well, that’s just silly.
Highs and lows
As for the food itself, it was mostly good, with a few high and low points. My eggs were a bit underdone, over easy instead of medium, but the sausages, once they arrived, were tasty. The potato pancakes could use work; they were basically large patties of flattened, grilled hash browns with a bit of egg-y filler that didn’t do enough to bind them together, and they would’ve been better with some seasoning and perhaps some onions. They weren’t bad after a generous dose of salt, but they could have been a lot better.
My husband’s eggs, covered in the mystery cheese, were OK, and his home fries had a really good flavor, though he thought they might have been a touch salty. The bacon and sausage were OK, though he said his sausage patty wasn’t as good as my links (the server hadn’t asked whether he wanted a patty or links), and the smoked meat was grilled but arrived lukewarm.
His pancake, which was big enough to cover an entire dinner plate, was good; the texture was a bit dense, but we could detect the flavor of vanilla, which was nice. The syrup, once we got it, was artificial, but it was pretty good for not being real maple syrup, and I was pleased to see the real stuff was actually listed on their menu as being available for an extra charge.
When the check came, my husband asked for a refill on his water, after having sat with an empty glass and an empty cocoa mug for a while; the server had clearly not been attentive in this regard, either. When we looked over the bill, we noticed my husband’s order had been written down as egg whites scrambled with Swiss — that at least cleared up the mystery about the cheese, but why would our server write down a specific kind of cheese without ever asking what kind we wanted? It was befuddling.
And to top it off, while our server did return to take our payment and bring back the receipt, my husband never did get more water, which left him grumbling as we walked out the door.
Our meal, with tax and tip, was $28.59.