Low key elegant brunch during the holidays at Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art [classic article]

A whole elegant and amusing day can be had at the BMA by starting out for brunch at Gertrude’s. (Remember that regular admission to the museum is FREE.) Renowned chef John Shields runs the helm and he’s an expert on coastal/Eastern Shore cuisine. He knows all the purveyors, fishermen, oystermen, shuckers, and micro-farmers. Recently, he was interviewed for Restaurants and Institutions for his thoughts on brunch. He does brunch on Saturday and Sunday –though he says people tend to drink more on Sunday. They feel more celebratory. Also, he serves brunch until 3, which is nice for late-risers.

The outdoor porch is weatherized for this time of year and available for private parties. On the day I was there, the porch had a very well behaved, well-dressed birthday party of lucky little girls.

Gertrude’s take on Bloody Marys can include a shrimp or be served as an oyster shooter. Shields’ version uses Absolut Limon, which lightens up the drink — making it less “ketchupy” than traditional Bloody Marys. If you order the “Love Potion” shooter, you will be treated to a very sweet, perfectly fresh and plump oyster. It goes well in the beverage.

If you go there when they are serving the duck sausage special add-on, by all means get it! It’s sweet but naturally so (not gummy or maple-y) and meaty.

Since Shields is a crab expert –and offers all kinds of local blue crab options — you’d be amiss to miss the cream of crab soup. It’s not goupy and thick-gravy like as most cream of crab soups are. It’s milky, yet packed full of crab flavor. It will not destroy your appetite for brunch, either.

There are several opportunities on the menu to have Hollandaise sauce. Tilghman Island Eggs are a deconstructed Eggs Benedict, with the subtraction of Canadian bacon and the addition of maybe some of the best fried oysters I’ve ever eaten. They remain tender and moist, with many of the qualities of a raw oyster, yet have a very crunchy cornmeal breading. I substituted hominy for the potatoes. Hominy is heartier, richer, and starchier than its ground sister, grits.

The seafood salad is generous with shrimp, jumbo lump crab, and perfectly tender-grilled scallops. The dressing, a roasted lemon vinaigrette. The dressing is pleasantly, but not too sweet. Its slight sweetness does not interfere with seafood. We know that seafood is “sweet” compared to fresh water fish, but it’s not a candy bar.

Speaking of candy bars, that is a must-eat dessert at Gertrude’s! It’s light, crispy, and wafer-like — yet, it has a rich, Snickers bar taste. It’s served with toasted hazelnuts, which would be great to be seen on all kinds of menu items.

A sophisticated dessert being served at this time is a butternut squash ice cream. While it has seasonal seasonings, it’s not too pumpkin-pie like. It’s rich, not overly sweet, and really highlights the true flavor of the squash.

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