September 26, 2006
Bertha's Mussels

When I was growing up in the 70's, Midwesterners who ventured to the Wisconsin Dells often came back with a few things - a memory of a great time, some cherry wine, and a bumper sticker on their car from the Tommy Bartlett Watershow. Tommy Bartlett's Watershow was an extravaganza featuring lots of daring waterskiing stunts. It was a great show to see, but the drawback was that while in the show, the Tommy Bartlett staff would be out in the parking lot plastering your bumpers with "Tommy Bartlett" bumper stickers. There were various legends about how to get or not get a bumper sticker, usually involving putting your car antenna up or down, and eventually, Tommy Bartlett's was forced to stop the obnoxious practice, but you couldn't drive around the upper Midwest in the 70's and early 80's without seeing one of their bumper stickers.

In Baltimore, I've seen one bumper sticker as ubiquitous as the Tommy Bartlett ones used to be in Chicago and that would be the simple green bumper sticker that proclaims in white lettering - "EAT BERTHA'S MUSSELS". The bumper stickers are voluntary in this case, and you'll be given a few with your check at the end of a satisfying meal of mollusks at this Fell's Point institution.

Bertha's has character. The small dark bar on the corner feels like its been there for eons. The people are friendly, the good but limited choice of beers is well selected, and the atmosphere is funky but comfortable.

If you choose to bypass the bar and go in through the restaurant, you'll find yourself in a friendly, dingy place that looks a lot cleaner than it smells. The smell fades quickly. You'll start with a basket of thickly sliced dry bread and butter. Although the menu offers oyster chowder, escargot, burgers, veggie burgers, and fresh fish of the day, the real attraction at Bertha's is the mussels.

There's even a folk song about Bertha's Mussels

They will cure your diarrhea, cure your constipation, too.
Just swallow a box for the chicken pox, the measles or the flu.
Now, if you fancy a healthy life, get your daily doses straight
A plate a day of Bertha's mussels, and you'll live 'til you're 98.

I wasn't feeling ill at all, but I started with a minestrone-like mussel chowder that was more tomatoes, vegetables, and mussels than broth. I'd never had a mussel soup before, and was pleased with the execution of this warming homey chowder.

Bertha's serves mussels in meal-sized bowls with one of eight sauces on the side. My dining companion tried the mussels with melted garlic basil butter and a wedge of lemon, and I squeezed lemon into my little cup of butter, anchovy, tomato and garlic sauce. We pried open the black and perlescent shelled mussels which had a nice orange cast to their meat and were often surprisingly large.

A few of the mussels were slightly overcooked, but on the whole, Bertha's mussels are delicious in either of the two sauces we tried or, I suspect in any of the eight total sauces you can order with them. Service was attentive and the mussels paired well with a Hoegaarten beer with a slice of lemon.

The best part was that a full meal of mussels for two, two beers, and one cup of chowder cost us only $32 and, as I mentioned above, came with three bumper stickers. Not too bad for a filling, delicious meal.

Bertha's is not a top of the line haute cuisine eatery. It's a good food and beer "joint" and matches the character of the city it's in - blue collar, quirky, practical, and satisfying. If you want good bar food and great mussels, just read the bumper of the car in front of you and head down to Broadway at the inner harbor to Eat Bertha's Mussels.

Bertha's Resturant & Bar
734 S. Broadway, Fells Point
Baltimore, Maryland 21231
P. 410.327.5795

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at September 26, 2006 7:50 AM Print-friendly version

If I am ever in Baltimore I have to visit Bertha's !!

Posted by Paul on September 26, 2006 at 6:57 PM

BUT. Does your car now sport a Bertha's bumper sticker???

You left out a vital piece of information!

Seriously, that sounds like a fantastic place. I'm looking forward to trying it when we finally manage a visit!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 27, 2006 at 6:40 AM

Meg - I haven't put a bumper sticker on my car, in part because they disappeared into the Redhead's purse and I haven't seen tehm since.

I think she may be trying to prevent me defacing my new car...

I think you'll like Bertha's a lot.

Posted by barrett on September 27, 2006 at 9:43 AM

When may I come back and try this place?
We can share catfish.

Posted by mother-in-law on September 28, 2006 at 1:57 PM

Folk peformers John Roberts and Tony Barrand have a live album recorded at Holsteins in Chicago called, oddly enough, "Eat Bertha's Mussels!" It's a great album; my favorite is the hard to find classic, "I am the man, the very fat man, that waters the workers beer." Roberts and Barrand are ex-pat Brits (Critic take note!); the album liner notes are straight-faced in claiming that they perform only one song in dialect: an American cowboy song.


Posted by Big Brother on October 8, 2006 at 3:27 PM

WoW! i thought these kind of places were a thing of the past! Thanks billions for the story.

Posted by Chef Bertha on November 27, 2008 at 11:25 AM
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