Charm City beckoned with stolen art and fine food.
After over a year of reading about the tiny Renoir painting stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art before even I was born (1951), supposedly found and bought in a flea market for $7 and ordered returned to the BMA in January, I finally had my chance to see "On the Shore of the Seine."
It was part of a new show called "The Renoir Returns" that focused on Baltimore collector Sadie May, the woman who first acquired the Renoir in 1925 along with 20 other works by pivotal 20th century artists like Picasso, Klee and Mondrian.
But you don't just jump into that kind of art after a scenic drive up Route 301 on a Sunday morning, you ease into it, meaning brunch at the BMA's restaurant, Gertrude, a place I'd eaten only twice before.
Our bar reservation was awaiting us, a duo was playing keyboard and clarinet, so what could be better than starting Sunday with Le Fils de Gras Moutons Muscadet Sevre et Maine along with a dozen Connecticut oysters?
Short answer: nothing, really.
Our pretty, Russian bartender kept our glasses full while I took in a fluffy garden omelet of squash, zucchini, onions and broccoli with ricotta along with a special of Mosley's farm scrapple, not as good as the scrapple I recently had at Pomegranate, but pretty darn tasty.
To get to the museum proper, we had to walk back outside and in again because the BMA seems to be undergoing the same sort of major renovation Richmonders dealt with while the VMFA was brought into the 21st century.
But once upstairs with Sadie May's lovely artwork, all thoughts went to this wonderful woman who'd had the foresight to collect these artists before most people had any idea who they were.
For me, the most delightful part of the tiny Renoir was that it had been painted on a damask table napkin from a restaurant along the river. The impressionistic scene so captivated the painter that he used the closest thing to capture it.
Another significant work on view was Seraut's small oil preparatory sketch for his "La Grande Jatte" masterpiece, purchased on the same day in 1925 as the Renoir. The receipt for both - at a grand total of $2,000- was also included in the exhibit.
So was the first Cubist painting Sadie ever bought, a 1924 still life of fruit and a knife on a curved table by Picasso in brilliant shades of purple, green and brick red
Like the Cone sisters, who also were avid art collectors who donated generously to the BMA, Sadie did our fair sex proud with her unerring eye for collecting art that would matter.
After a full afternoon of art, we took a turn for the declasse, heading to Fell's Point and the tiny and undoubtedly unchanging Bar (writing on white board, "Yes, we're a bar called Bar"), a narrow stretch of a building with a pool table in the back, window unit air conditioners embedded in the walls and about an inch of dust on the top of the wineglasses.
I ordered tequila to be safe while the genial owner began by telling us about how she'd spent her day, having just come on duty.
Seems she'd taken bags and bags of beer cans home over the winter intending to recycle them, but she'd ignored them so long that the bags had split and she was now finding herself faced with recollecting and bagging all those old cans.
Such is the glamour of being a Baltimore bar owner, it seems.
She inquired if we were in town for the tattoo convention (as if!), leading to a discussion of why the three of us are un-inked, while we sipped and she shared that Bar has been open every Sunday since 1974 except for two, when she didn't feel like working.
I was beginning to understand why the Museum of Industry is in Baltimore. Working stiffs, indeed.
After a walk along the harbor, we set out for the highly-touted Woodberry Kitchen and our second reservation of the day.
I'd been warned that the place was big, but I put my back to the dining room and instead had a view of the softly lit outdoor dining room, with the bustle around the wood-burning oven behind me.
Our server was adorable and when I asked about her cute apron, she proudly told me in her squeaky, sweet voice that she'd made it out of several other Woodberry aprons and is hoping to start an Etsy shop for her sewing projects which are her passion.
Right about then, our passion was a bottle of beautiful, salmon-colored Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinto Noir, a Rose befitting the low key but beautiful setting that felt light years away from the pubs along the harbor.
Starting with radishes with tops in tarragon ranch and herb butter, we moved on to Coppa and beef tongue, served with - I kid you not - what was labeled "adorable toast" (it may have been adorable, but two slices was best described as insufficient until our kewpie pie eventually brought two more), stone fruit mostarda and Russian dressing.
When our server raved about the wood roasted asparagus with espelette butter and bread crumbs, we took her at her word and had some to the most delicious asparagus we could have hoped for.
The musical selections were as pleasurable as the asparagus, not too obvious or overplayed, so I inquired of the source, learning it was Spotify's "weekend playlist," a meaningless moniker for such good song choices.
I also gave them points because every single bathroom was labeled "women and men" and were wallpapered in old cookbook pages. How have I not seen that done before now?
For dinner I chose Croque Monisuer flatbread with mustard cream, smoked ham, cheddar and pickled mustard seed, essentially a high end pizza with terrific crust cooked in that killer wood burning oven while my date got wood roasted sausages of Weisswurst and Kofta, although he immediately requested mustard, feeling like it was the one element missing.
For dessert, I briefly considered the farmstead cheese plate, impressed that all three cheeses were from Maryland, but with help from the cute server ("If you like chocolate, that's the one to get"), decided on the kitchen sink, a sundae of cookie dough ice cream, hot fudge, dice-sized cubes of brownies and blondies under whipped cream.
Did I need dessert? No. Did I appreciate lingering over a sweet while finishing the beautiful Rose as the dining room cleared out and we became surrounded by empty tables with candles flickering on them?
I did. Why, it was downright charming.