Same as It Ever Was
Gertrude's Doesn't Change Much, But That's a Good Thing
Gertrude's is looking as polished and pretty as the day it opened (10 Art Museum Drive,  889-3399). About halfway through its 10th year at the Baltimore Museum of Art, John Shields' restaurant has settled into a comfortable groove, and there's something reassuring about the professionalism here, a pervasive briskness. The menu doesn't seem to have evolved much over the years, either in format or content, but that's not a bad thing. Sure, Gertrude's is a bit predictable, but others have tried before to make a go of it in this space and only Gertrude's has lasted.
Gertrude's has succeeded over the long haul because it manages to fulfill its museum duties, providing daytime meals for visitors and staff, without feeling institutional. And it manages to be accommodating without being patronizing. The space helps. Worked up with platforms and arranged with an understanding of sightlines, by day it's a comfortable airy space, but by night it takes on a shimmering glow. And then, irresistibly, there's the outdoor terrace, a special place, with its close-up views of the museum's sculpture gardens.
But the master stroke for the museum was courting and installing Shields, a telegenic and enthusiastic promoter of Chesapeake cuisine. Simply having a menu steeped in regional cuisine automatically includes the restaurant in the museum's mission. And not needing to prove its cultural cred, the restaurant is free to go about its business of entertaining diners and making a profit. (Sometimes Gertrude's even shuts itself down for private functions--it's always a good idea to call first.)
The menu consists of soups, salads, small plates, and big plates (aka appetizers and entrées). The big plates are further divided up into seafood and land-based categories. A separate menu section lets diners put together their own dinner by choosing first a grilled thing (e.g., salmon [$18], chicken breast [$16], 6-ounce sirloin [$20]), then a house sauce (e.g., remoulade, lemon beurre blanc, basil-caper tartar sauce), and finally two side dishes (e.g., garlic spinach, french fries, hush puppies, rosemary grilled potatoes).
"Tuesdays With Gertie" is the restaurant's bargain-dinner night, and it's a good way to ease into the menu. A dozen completely plated entrées are priced at $10 (a few at $12), with an add-on option of a $4 soup or salad. A smart selection of $18 wines by the bottle makes it kind of a no-brainer. Some of the $10 items, like the delectable Maryland pan-fried chicken, which comes with a vegetable and mashed potatoes and gravy, are only available on Tuesday nights; others, like the salmon alla bella, are on the regular menu as well. (The salmon usually fetches $19.)
That crispy-skinned chicken is worth having, and so is the house-pride crab cake ($12 Tuesdays, $18 for one or $30 for two otherwise), which is seasoned with peppery assertiveness and is just moist enough to hold together. The salmon, which is coated with egg, Parmesan, and herbs, and accompanied by a sweetish lemon beurre blanc, is frankly a little weird, or overly done, in a way similar to the citrus barbecue shrimp ($10 appetizer, $22 entrée), which wraps perfectly good shrimp with pancetta and then pastes on bbq sauce and fontina cheese.
In contrast, the cornmeal-dusted Chincoteague oysters ($18), served with a convincing remoulade, are deliciously simple. The soups were superb, too--a sherry-laced cream of crab; a hearty and fresh-tasting vegetable-based crab soup, garnished with back fin; and a pretty special celery soup, with natural, subtle flavors.
This is the time of year to get back to Gertrude's. The terraces and gardens never look better than they do now. And we haven't even mentioned how sweet it is to have brunch here. H
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.