Tucked into a corner of the Baltimore Museum of Art is an undiscovered vegan oasis, though at first I don’t realize it.
My family is at Gertrude’s for my mother’s birthday, and even though I’ve been assured there will be vegan options, I’m not too excited. We have to park in the paid lot, which seems silly to me. The area is also under construction, so the bathrooms are in what appears to be a portable trailer detached from the main building. We have to walk passed it in a plastic-covered hallway to get to Gertrude’s front door. Not a wonderful first impression.
It’s 5:30 on a Tuesday. Although there are seats available in the outdoor sculpture garden, the 90-degrees-plus-humidity keeps us inside. There aren’t many other patrons.
I order an amaretto sour, panicking at the waitress’s arrival and blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. It takes a good ten minutes to arrive, which is odd given the lack of customers. It’s also pretty pricey and a little weak, but I do appreciate the restraint shown when adding syrup—definitely not too sweet.
There is a special reduced-price menu on Tuesdays. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that three of the 11 options are vegan: Moroccan Chickpea Couscous, “Can’t Believe It’s Not Crab” Cakes, and Southeast Asian Vegetable Curry. We are in Maryland, after all, so I order the faux-crab cakes. They arrive piping hot—two fried zucchini cakes blended with Old Bay and served with an orange-chipotle sauce. The sauce doesn’t add much to the cakes, to be honest, which are spicy and flavorful enough on their own. They’re moist and stay clumped together very well despite the lack of egg.
Also on the plate are (very) garlicky spinach and an udon noodle salad—I’m surprised to find the noodles are cold, but the temperature ends up perfectly complimenting the spicy cakes and spinach. The garlic and heat also play nicely off of the slight sweetness to the zucchini. Nothing tastes like crab, but the final flavor is anything but disappointing. I was so very wrong to doubt Gertrude’s vegan options. I eat every last morsel.
The restaurant is filling up by the time we finish our meal. At a nearby table, a family is meeting with Gertrude’s staff to discuss a wedding reception. The room is filled with natural light, the tables decorated with candles and silver place settings. I’m a bit envious of the newlyweds who will have their celebration here.
We’re served the dessert menu, and I’m again pleasantly surprised at the vegan options: several homemade, uniquely flavored sorbets and a vegan banana split. We’re quite full and so order the banana split to share. I laugh as they bring us three new place settings. The banana arrives with several scoops of chocolate-chip-cookie-dough soy ice cream, homemade soy whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and cherries. The whipped cream looks so real that I’m hesitant at first to try it, thinking they’ve made a mistake. The ice cream tastes fresh—clearly homemade—and it’s chocolaty and not at all cloying. Once again, every morsel is devoured.
Nearly every table is full by the time we leave around 6:30. On the way out, I notice a vegan drinks meet-up schedule and take one for future reference. Gertrude’s in Baltimore…who knew?