After a couple of weeks of frigid Artic weather (read “Polar Vortex”), balmy weather made its way into the area, warm enough for one to think it was some kind of heat wave, albeit only in the 50’s – so much for the law of relativity. My regular dinner mates decided to invite me as well as a Chinese friend visiting from Germany to Fell’s Point, Baltimore to have a quick lunch at a much talked about place, Bertha’s. I was looking forward to it for a bowlful of mussels fueled by hype created by its propaganda seen on some bumper stickers.
Walking into the establishment, one notices that the place is divided into two, a bar and a restaurant. The dark wood-paneled walls exude a character that bespeaks of history, stories, and many nights of sorrow drowning. The dining room is dimly lit and I was lucky to be seated by a recently vacated table near the window. To start the meal off, I decided to have a bowl of Maryland Crab Soup, perhaps trying to defrost from the week’s subzero temperatures. However, what arrived was a bowl of creamy soup with chunks of fish fillet. I notified the waitress the mistake and my friend decided to pick up that bowl instead. When the correct soup arrived, it was quite a disappointment. I was fishing (no pun intended) for pieces of crabmeat that were miniscule and overcooked, overtaken by large pieces of cabbage and vegetables, that turned this bowlful pretty much into a tomato-based veggie soup. Watching my friend enjoying his Fish Chowder stirred a bit of envy in this dissatisfied customer, and I wished I had not changed the bowl. But I still had some hope for what was to come.
The visiting guest decided to order Broiled Shrimp in Garlic Butter. A plate filled with pieces of shrimp arrived on top of a bed of rice, covered by a douse of garlic butter. The pieces of shellfish were quite large, butterflied, and cooked a bit tough, tasting slightly pungent from the slightly raw tasting garlic. The bed of plain white rice was not exactly the most enhancing accompaniment to this dish, for more seasoning would have balanced out the dish better.
Another friend’s order was Chicken Bartholomew since he was put on a strict diet by doctor’s order. Pieces of poached chicken were paired with peach slices and spinach leaves, sitting on a bed of white rice. But what really tied these disparate elements together was a chilled creamy lemon-garlic sauce that lent a tangy, creamy, and garlic pungency to the healthy mix. My friend seemed very satisfied by this dish despite the drastic measures that he was taking with his meal choices.
OK, Mussels is what this place is known for. Since the place offers a myriad of dipping sauces to go along with them, I could not make up my mind, and I decided to go with Mussels with Assorted Sauces. The bivalves came as a mound sitting on a wide bowl accompanied with a variety of these sauces: Garlic, Butter and Capers; Spinach, Tarragon, and Garlic Butter; Spanish Sauce; Anchovy, Tomato and Garlic; and Lancaster Creamy Mustard Sauce. The mussels were not too big, and they tasted fresh and rather plump, without being overcooked or stringy. My favorite dips were the one with capers with its buttery brininess, the Spanish with its fresh tomato flavor, the Anchovy with its slight ocean saltiness, and the mustard sauce with its rich and tangy qualities. This is the dish that place is known for and deservedly so.
When heading to the Baltimore area, you should stop by Bertha’s at Fell’s Point area, serving a myriad of seafood dishes. The crab soup may not be a hit, but go for the fish chowder which was the day’s special. The Broiled Shrimp and Chicken Bartholomew were fairly good dishes despite being a bit pricey. But the Mussels are a must order in this house, especially with the different sauces offered along with it. When in Baltimore, eat Bertha’s Mussels, as their green bumper sticker incessantly reminds you on the highway.