story & photos by Bakery Boy
People line up at the showcases, waiting to point out which sweets they want boxed to go. They fill a couple of dozen tables steadily from breakfast time through lunch. They sometimes spot owner Jimmy Shashy darting around in back, keeping the baked goods coming at Shashy’s Bakery & Fine Foods.
A few know Jimmy pretty well from his 21 years at the same venerable location in the Mulberry Business District of Montgomery, Alabama. Many others are most likely unaware of just how diversified a character he really is.
Jimmy Shashy comes from a family of medical professionals, a clan of doctors and surgeons based in Montgomery and Birmingham, so he can talk medicine with ease. He studied English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, so he can get the grammar right (when he wants to) in his Alabama country-boy accent.
He also holds a degree in wildlife science from Auburn University, knowledge he puts to use managing deer and turkey populations on about 1,200 rural acres his father maintains in part for hunting in nearby Lowndes County. Jimmy is a devoted vegetable farmer too, tending produce that as often as not end up on plates at his popular bakery and café.
Despite such renaissance-man leanings, Jimmy is first and foremost a baker. “When I didn’t show an interest in following most of my family into the medical field,” the Montgomery native says, “my mother suggested I go up to Birmingham and learn about baking from my cousin, Van Scott, who later bought Savage’s Bakery in Homewood and still runs it to this day.” (Click here for a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about Savage’s). “We both worked at Waite’s, a bakery that’s long gone now. I spent a few year waiting tables, cooking, and baking. Then I moved back home to run a Montgomery bakery that’s also gone, and in 1990 I opened Shashy’s Bakery & Fine Foods.”
Baked goods run a wide gamut at Shashy’s. Beautiful, rich pies fill a large section of the showcases, including cherry, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut cream, key lime and other selections ($10.95 to $18.95 whole, $3.95 by the slice). Layer cakes stacked three or four layers high—usually by Jimmy himself, since that’s one of his specialties—include red velvet, carrot, lemon-orange, chocolate (starting at $24.99) and a terrific strawberry cake made with locally grown berries ($32.99).
There are also frosting-topped thumbprint cookies on pecan shortbread (70¢), oatmeal-raisin cookies (75¢), cinnamon raisin buns (95¢), cream cheese and cherry Danish ($1.75), petit fours ($1.25), mini bonbons comprised of little chocolate cakes covered with butter cream and chocolate icing ($1.75), and a variety of thick brownies. Breads range from rectangular white, whole wheat, and rye loaves ($3.95) sliced for sandwich-making, to Parker House rolls ($6 a dozen), to awesome cheese biscuits (65¢ for a mini, $1.40 for one the size of a hamburger bun) that are earning Shashy’s a wider circle of fans.
The “fine foods” part of the name Shashy’s Bakery & Fine Foods packs quite a few surprises. None is more interesting and tasty than the locally famous Fried Green Tomatoes Eggs Benedict ($9.95) served on Saturdays. It involves slices of green tomato dipped in a tempura batter and fried, topped with sliced bacon, poached eggs, and a very lemony hollandaise sauce, and served with orange slices and a toasted English muffin. I recently paired this phenomenon with a buttery bowl of grits on the side and an endless cup of coffee for the best brunch I’ve eaten in years. Intriguing variations worth considering: Corned Beef Hash Benedict and Filet of Beef Tenderloin Benedict.
The café serves omelets, pancakes, French toast, and home-fried potatoes for breakfast, then deli-meat sandwiches, shrimp po’ boys, turkey club croissants, burgers, catfish, grilled Reuben sandwiches, curried chicken salad and more for lunch.
Lebanese dishes such as hummus tahini, baked kibbeh, and rolled grape leaves pop up frequently (the family name Shashy comes from his grandparents, natives of neighboring Syria). On Thursdays he makes chicken shacree, a combination of yogurt, onions, mint and braised garbanzo beans that goes well with his taboulleh and hummus.
“I also make Louisiana Cajun-style gumbo, etouffee, and barbecued shrimp, Lowcountry Charleston sauté, and other dishes just because that’s what I like to eat,” Jimmy says.
He’s obsessed with freshness. “I go three times a week to the local farmers market, the Montgomery Curb Market, to pick up silver corn, onions, cantaloupe and blueberries in summer, or collards, turnip greens and rutabaga in winter—whatever looks good at the time—and work it into the menu.”
That devotion to freshness led Jimmy into vegetable farming as a sideline. “I work here at the bakery all morning, leave at about 3 in the afternoon, go down to the farm and put in another 4 or 5 hours tending my vegetables,” he says. “I’m growing the squash, okra, eggplant and a lot of the other produce we serve in the café.”
The one aspect of his story that seems most out of place is the wildlife science part, which he explains it in midlife crisis terms. “There I was, turning 40 and I’d already been in the food business for half my life,” he says. “Early on I’d thought about a career in wildlife biology or something like that, and I knew I wouldn’t be content until I got the degree I’d always wanted. So I kept running the bakery as always and took courses at Auburn whenever I could squeeze them in until I finally got it. I don’t suppose I’ll ever use that degree for anything other that managing my family’s land, but I get a great sense of satisfaction out of just having followed through.”
1700 Mulberry Street
Montgomery, AL 36106
no website, but click here for Shashy’s Facebook Page
For more about visiting Montgomery: visitingmontgomery.com