Gertrude’s at the BMA–another notable museum restaurant

What is going on with museum restaurants?–Long the domain of staid upholstery and starched skirts, lately they seem to be showing a lot more ankle! The current case in point, Gertrude’s at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where I had an early supper (or was it a late lunch?) last Sunday.

The BMA is noted for the Cone Collection, a gift from sisters Etta and Claribel Cone, daughters of a prosperous late 19th-century owner of a grocery store. After their brothers built the family business into a huge textile company, “Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel” spent a good chunk of the family fortune on art, guided at first only by their own superb taste and then later by their good friends Leo and Gertrude Stein. Hence the name of this restaurant!

After spending several hours among the many Matisses (Henri was a close friend of the sisters and is well represented), the Picassos, the Modiglianis, and even the Jackson Pollacks, I was ready for a sit-down and a light meal.

Yes, I had the time-honored soup-and-sandwich combo, but it came with a few surprises! The soup was basically a minestrone, but instead of being simmered into gray anonymity,  the vegetables were lightly al dente and fortified with chunks of flavorful crab (this is Baltimore, after all). The sandwich was chicken salad, but made with large moist chunks of chicken breast, toasted slivered almonds, tarragon, and minced red onion on calamata-olive ciabatta bread. And the orzo salad actually stole the show, with a silky lemon dressing and bits of glossy red pepper. Great mix of flavors and textures! (The wine helped.)

The setting also helped! Gertrude’s extends out onto a patio at the edge of the BMA sculpture garden. It was a warm, pleasant day, so I sat outside by the fountain and admired the art as I ate.

After my meal, I wandered around the Johns Hopkins University campus next door until it was time to retrieve my roller-bag and head for the airport. What a nice day!–I’ll be back, Baltimore!

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