Three More Baltimore Delis
By Richard Blackman
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Three Baltimore Delis and a Pit Beef restaurant in 4 hours. That’s what three of my elementary school friends, Gary, Malcolm, Larry and I indulged in last weekend. Together, we’ve visited over 48 Jewish-style delis, as well as other restaurants since 2010 in search of the best pastrami, corned beef, brisket and, in general, the best food to share with friends. (You can read our reviews and ratings of all 50 delis.) On Sunday, our search took us to four Baltimore places we hadn’t yet been to: Edmart, Lenny’s, the new Essen Room, and (because we’d heard so much about it on Food Channel and other sources), Chaps Pit Beef. At the three delis we visited, we ordered the same deli menu we’ve chosen for the past 7 years: Corned beef, pastrami, and brisket sandwiches (each cut in fourths), half sour and full sour pickles, potato salad and coleslaw. Using Larry’s trusty scale, we determined the per-ounce sandwich price, which ranged from about $1.15 to $1.45, quite reasonable. (See the attached charts for deli ratings and sandwich costs).
We started early at Edmart Deli (Pikesville) -- 10 am -- when Shelly, the super friendly and welcoming proprietor showed us to our “reserved” table in back. We had called to ask when was the earliest we could get hot sandwiches on a Sunday, and she offered to reserve a table. Edmart is really more of a carryout deli with two small tables for 6 in the back. The deli wasn’t crowded, but there were always other customers ordering takeout at the counter.
The sandwiches (which come with pickles) were $9.54 apiece but we opted for the $10.60 lunch special which came with a drink and chips. When the sandwiches came (on paper plates), we discovered that Edmart sandwiches were “normal” size vs “giant” size that some delis offer.
The highlight for us was the home-made potato salad. We all loved it. It’s on a par with the home-made potato salad from Goodman’s Deli in Berkeley Heights, NJ (on our all-time top 5 list of best delis). As to the rest of the food at Edmart, as well as much of the rest of the food we had on this trip, the four of us often disagreed.
Edmart cooks the brisket in-house, but not the other meats. All the meats came from NYC. We all agreed that pastrami was not a highlight and should be skipped. Gary thought it had been aged, but not in a good way. I liked the brisket a lot, but my friends weren’t as impressed. Cole slaw and pickles were average (which is often the case). Before we left, Shelly gave us all bags of Fisher’s caramel corn. It was a nice touch of hospitality, as Shelly aims to please.
The sandwiches were much bigger than those at the other delis, but at $16.95 each they were comparably priced per ounce. They were also served on real plates, something we appreciated. Another bonus, they have a pickle bar, with several kinds of pickles (including spicy sour—too spicy for us), pickled tomatoes (I’d definitely skip those again), health salad and sauerkraut. I thought the pastrami sandwich was the first one I had eaten on this trip that had the pastrami taste I was looking for. We had mixed feelings on the quality of the brisket and corned beef, which were good. We decided to split a hot dog. All of us had half of our ¼ dog and choose not to eat more than bite. I had a much better dog at the University of Maryland dining hall the week before. We also tried their onion rings, which we felt were above average. The slaw and potato salad were average at best and the pickles were okay, although Gary loved both types because they were crunchy.
Our next stop was Lenny’s Deli in Owings Mills. Years ago, there were lines far out the door at almost all hours at the huge Lenny’s on Lombard Street. That Lenny’s has closed, and this Lenny’s was about half full. We ordered at a cafeteria-style counter and grabbed a table. Sandwiches, served on paper plates, at $9.99 each were a little bigger than Edmart’s. We disagreed again on how much we liked the sandwiches, but on the whole, we felt they were generally moist, although not necessarily as flavorful as we would have liked. As to the brisket, Larry wasn’t impressed. He thought it was tasty but he didn’t think it tasted like brisket. He said, “If they had given us a PB&J sandwich, it might be tasty, but it wouldn’t taste like brisket.” The pastrami and corned beef were fine. The potato salad and slaw, just average. Gary loved the crispness of the pickles (his #1 criteria); I thought the half-sour was so lacking in taste, it might just as well have been a cucumber. Larry liked the full-sour because it tasted like a half-sour, and Gary agreed (they both prefer half-sours).Out last deli stop, which was two miles down the road, was the newly opened “Essen Room,” established by the folks who own “The Kibbutz Room” deli in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which we had visited several years ago. As we walked into the packed restaurant at 12:30, it was the only one of the three that had the jewish deli feel. At least at the counter. A real jewish deli should always be packed at noon on a Sunday. Gary waited in line at the counter for about 15 minutes to order, while the rest of us grabbed the last table. There were about 40 tables crammed next to each other, with lots of families and an almost deafening roar of people talking. In spite of the large crowd, they brought our order to our table in 16 minutes.
At our last stop, Chap’s Pit Beef, on the other side of Baltimore on Pulaski Highway, next to the Gentlemans’ Gold Club strip bar, (which we did not enter) we split two pit beef sandwiches at $8 each. The sandwiches were by far the highlight of our trip. We ordered at the counter and found seats at the shared long picnic-bench style tables. There were lots of BBQ sauce options for the sandwiches (all excellent). While it’s a bit out of the way, I’d definitely want to go back.My thoughts on the three delis (and my fellow travelers probably have differing thoughts), for Baltimore, I’d go for Edmart for takeout brisket and Attmans for corned beef. I might want to try Essen Room again when it’s less crowded. However, the four of us did agree on one thing; none of the 3 delis are in the same league with New York’s best delis. You simply can’t go to Baltimore with New York expectations.