To begin, I first heard about John Shields and his restaurant, Gertrude's, several years ago when one of my best friends moved to Baltimore. It was eerie--Mary knew I was all into delicious, sustainable food and her brother happened to get John Shields' business card after giving him a taxi ride. Four years later, we finally get to Gertrude's when I swooped in on a business trip and there's John near the host stand.
So I knew I was going to love the food--more on that later--but I totally have a chef-crush on John Shields. It's not just that he honed his cooking skills in Berkeley--in the gourmet ghetto where I spent five blissful years. There he fell in love with New American cooking style that has so influenced this country's restaurant scene. And it isn't just that he writes for Edible Chesapeake (Edible Finger Lakes' sister publication). What I love is that he learned to cook from his grandmother and named his restaurant after her. And it is at Gertrude's that he reinterprets the New American style for the distinctive cuisine of the Chesapeake Bay.
But wait, there's more! John's business card listed his title as Spiritual Advisor. Now, as a spiritual advisor myself, I was intrigued to say the least. What he means is that he thinks of his kitchen as a kind of Benedictine monastery and he's like the abbot--or spiritual adivsor to those who are working so hard to turn out great food from his kitchen. I'm a Benedictine--meaning that I seek to balance prayer, work, study, and rest/play into my life as a spiritual discipline. The Episcopal monasteries of Holy Cross and the Society of St. John the Evangelist shape my spirituality greatly. I'm not sure how John run's his kitchen (restaurant kitchens are not known for being quiet, meditative places). But I can imagine that if he's infusing any sense of balance in the way things work behind the scenes then it's got to be good. Plus, it isn't every day that I hear words like "food and faith connection" coming from the mouth of a chef. Having contributed to a book about food and faith, that pretty much sealed the deal on the chef-crush.
I've only been to Baltimore about a dozen times but have never been offered information on the provenance of the crab without asking. What I learned was that most crab served up in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere actually comes from Thailand. It's a familiar story--it is cheaper to fly it in from Thailand where it is more plentiful than to source is from the Chesapeake. But Gertrude's does carry local crab on its menu so I had to have it.
A simple lunch of a crab cake and spinach salad turned out to be far more scintillating than you would imagine. I ordered the Clayton's Cambridge Crab Cake which was the crab cake du jour--made of jumbo and lump MARYLAND crabmeat. I've eaten a lot of crab cakes in my life but this one was a CRAB cake. Tender, rich and flavorful (you know, not all crab tastes like much) this has to be the best crab cake I've ever eaten. The texture was of a "melt in your mouth" goodness.
My friend Mary had a perfectly grilled piece of salmon with a spinach salad and her husband Mark and I indulged in an extraordinary cheese cake made with locally sourced goat cheese. We finished the meal with a stroll through the museum's outdoor scupture garden--visible from our restaurant table.
I can't wait to get back to Baltimore (to see Mary, of course) but to check out dinner at Gertrude's. And maybe I'll even make it into one of the exhibits in the museum.