Tuesdays With Mommy
A Special Day on Specials Day at Gertrude's
A couple of weeks ago, C.C.'s mom turned eightysomething. (You won't get more than that out of me.) This presented a dilemma. The Dowager Empress, like most royals, is a little hard to please. She does love a good crab cake, not to mention crab soup. But C.C.'s brother Richard would be joining us, and he craves beef. C.C., in a sudden rush of body consciousness, was determined to have something healthy. And this being a celebration, a bit of razzle-dazzle was required.
Happily, my selection, cookbook author John Shields' Gertrude's (10 Art Museum Drive [Baltimore Museum of Art],  889-3399), turned out to be a crowd-pleaser. The space is handsome, and in good weather you can dine outdoors, beside the BMA's sculpture garden. Best of all, because Mom's birthday fell on a Tuesday, we got to take advantage of Tuesdays with Gertie, when 10 entrées go for 10 bucks each and 18 wines are $18 a bottle.
Gertrude's, named for Shields' grandmother, features Eastern Shore cooking, and what we sampled was terrific (including the best hush puppies I ever ate). But the menu is varied. And while you can drop a bundle here, you don't need to--especially on Tuesdays.
Mom began with a cup of Miss Jean's crab soup ($4.50), spicy and heavy with garden vegetables and sweet crab. We all shared a couple of choices from the roster of "Small Plates" (bigger than an appetizer, smaller than an entrée). Chicken and corn fritters ($6.25) were, like the hush puppies, golf-ball-size spheres of deep-fried goodness, crunchy without, creamy within, and especially tasty when dipped in the accompanying mango chutney aioli. Citrus barbecue shrimp ($9.25) seemed a lighter choice, even with the shellfish thinly wrapped in Italian bacon and blanketed in fontina cheese. The barbecue sauce was citrus-tinged as advertised and nicely smoky. But the best thing on the table might have been the heavenly corn sticks in the bread basket (along with sunflower-seed rolls); we liked them so much that we requested a second serving.
You get a choice of crab cakes at Gertrude's, a traditional broiled specimen or a pan-fried version, heavy on the mustard and horseradish. Mom chose the former as part of a build-your-own entrée option (chicken or seafood with choice of sauce--anything from remoulade to lemon-caper beurre blanc--and two sides). She passed on the sauce and picked apple-fennel coleslaw and grilled rosemary red potatoes for sides. Had she been willing to settle for fries and slaw, the single cake would have gone for $10 (it being Tuesday), but Mom had to have those red spuds, which bumped the price to $15.25--royals being above petty considerations such as finance. She wasn't disappointed in the spuds but, unlike the rest of us, didn't think much of the fruity slaw.
Richard, true to form, selected the Black Angus filet mignon (at $24.95, one of the menu's most expensive items). For this princely sum, he received a hefty hunk (10 ounces, though it looked bigger) accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized red onions, and sautéed spinach. I couldn't detect the menu-promised blue-cheese/rosemary butter, but who could, with all those lively competing flavors? The beef was primo, as good as any I've had in our local steak joints, and Richard polished it off in a sort of happy daze.
True to her resolve, C.C. picked one of the vegetarian $10 specials, the Can't Believe It's Not Crab Cakes, two pan-fried patties made with crab-cake binding and filler but substituting grated zucchini for the crab. She loved them. I found them better than expected, both tasty and filling, especially with sides of crispy fries and that fruity slaw. My $10 treat, cornmeal-encrusted catfish, was large, moist, and very flavorful. Any of the Tuesday deals (which also include Thai vegetable curry, five-spice chicken, and pulled-pork barbecue), supplemented by the good bread and a glass of something nonalcoholic, would constitute a true cheap eat.
You don't get free birthday cake at Gertrude's, but they served Mom's dessert selection (vanilla ice cream, $4) on a large plate with happy birthday inscribed in chocolate around the rim. We also sampled the country bread pudding ($5) and something called frozen nougatine glacée ($6). If you need or want to share a dessert, go with the last one. Our server's description ("It's like ice cream") didn't do justice to this French confection, a minitower of caramelized sugar and almonds that did look a bit like vanilla ice cream but melted on the tongue with tiny caramel explosions--fireworks for the mouth. The bread pudding, also a French recipe, was more cake than pudding, and so rich that none of us could handle more than a few bites.
The Dowager Empress pronounced herself pleased, and so were we. Another birthday pulled off with panache.
Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, and 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.