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Pit Beef in Baltimore

g
gregb Jun 4, 2008 07:33 AM

After looking around and doing some searches, I have not found a good post on here for favorite Pit Beef places. Most posts seem to have conflicting information or are based on stands at festivals.
Is this whole pit beef thing so fickle that one day a place has the best and then that same sandwich the following day gets terrible reviews?
I have had the corner pit beef station at the JFX farmers' market twice now, and quite frankly has not been that good.
If this whole Pit Beef thing is as much of a Baltimore tradition as some claim, there must be places that make it worth while.
Where is your go-to-hankering-for-red-meat-raw-onions-and-horseradish sandwich?

  1. crosby_p Jun 10, 2008 03:29 AM

    This thread made me so hungry...with no time to visit any of the places, I improvised...white bread, deli roast beef, horseradish and onion with just a tad of mayo. Not pit beef, but darned close!

    1. w
      WestIndianArchie Jun 7, 2008 03:04 PM

      I just went to both Chaps and Pioneer.

      1) Chaps featured that shock blonde fat guy from the food network in a big poster. Being a fan of the "meat on bread" genre, I was quite excited.

      bread - kaiser
      condiments - on the side (they did have tiger sauce and onions)
      The Meat - I got it rare, and it was tasty.

      Including the 4 dollars for toll (to and from), It was a relatively expensive sandwich.

      2) I decided to hit Pioneer, as Chaps was okay, but I didn't want to write off the whole Pit Beef as better rendition of an Arby's sandwich

      It's actually on Johnny Cake road, but faces Rollingwood.

      - cash only
      - hand made menu
      - 11-5 Mon - Saturday

      I got 2, so I could take one home.

      Despite them not using Kaiser Rolls, this sandwich ended up being way better.
      - sliced onions, were much thinner
      - tiger sauce was more "tigery"
      And the meat...that's what I was envisioning.

      I won't be driving an hour to Chaps, I will be driving an hour to Pioneer.

      18 Replies
      1. re: WestIndianArchie
        Dennis S Jun 7, 2008 06:57 PM

        Nice report. I'm glad since Pioneer is in my neck of the woods when visiting clients up there.

        1. re: Dennis S
          h
          hon Jun 7, 2008 07:38 PM

          The last time I had Chaps, the meat was pretty tasteless.
          I will be checking out Pioneer!

          1. re: hon
            g
            gregb Jun 9, 2008 05:26 AM

            I hit Chaps on Friday and was very pleased. The location and setting is what a Pit Beef place should be...half run down make-shift building on the side of Pulaski Highway right next to a Gentleman's club. I can only imagine great stories people have about spending an evening at these two establishments!
            I would agree with hon that the beef was a little lacking in the flavor department, but the "medium rare" was very moist and extremely tender. There was no fighting the sandwich and waiting for it to implode. Horseradish, raw onions, and a splash of the BBQ sauce went on top of the meat. I did not have a problem with the thickness of the onions, and thought the horseradish tasted fresh and had a nice bite to it. All in all, I don't think it was the ultimate sandwich, but certainly good enough for a return trip as I am only about 10 minutes away.
            Pioneer is next on the list!

            1. re: gregb
              Dennis S Jun 9, 2008 01:59 PM

              Hit Pioneer again today and had it med rare with tiger sauce and onion - it was very good. Fries were only so-so, but I do like their slaw. I'm glad it's near a client of mine.

              1. re: Dennis S
                w
                WestIndianArchie Jun 9, 2008 02:32 PM

                What's the fries with "gravy" all about?

                What kinda gravy?

                1. re: WestIndianArchie
                  h
                  Hal Laurent Jun 9, 2008 03:33 PM

                  Fries with gravy is an old-fashioned thing. I don't know if it's peculiar to Baltimore, although I suspect it's not. Not usually what you'd expect with pit beef (heck, I wouldn't normally expect any kind of fries with pit beef).

                  Fries with gravy is more of a diner kind of thing, usually served along side hot turkey sandwiches or hot roast beef sandwiches. The gravy on the fries would be the same gravy as on the sandwiches.

                  A deep fryer seems a rather unusual thing for a pit beef stand to have.

                  1. re: Hal Laurent
                    baltoellen Jun 9, 2008 04:38 PM

                    I was once in a wanting to be hip, retro diner place in Kansas City, MO. On their menu they had something called, "fries with gravy, Baltimore-style." The friend I was with, also from Baltimore, and I had to call our server over and then call the manager over to let them know, in no uncertain terms that the gravy for "Baltimore-style" didn't mean that horrid white, floury gravy they use in the Midwest for things like chicken fried steak. That it usually meant beef gravy, or sometimes turkey gravy if you're doing that hot open turkey sandwich thing.

                    This was a while ago, and think fries & gravy may be thought of as a Balto thing because of the movie, Diner.

                    That said, the late, lamented Big Al's Pit Beef had fries, and I think the fries and gravy at Chaps rocks! (And, I didn't realize that I was in the minority, but think they have a damned good rare pit beef sandwich, too.)

                    1. re: baltoellen
                      h
                      Hal Laurent Jun 9, 2008 05:25 PM

                      Well I stand corrected...perhaps fries with gravy *are* a Baltimore thing. I mostly grew up around here, but both my parents were from Louisiana so I didn't always get the historical underpinnings.

                      I still tend to think of pit beef joints as mostly outside shack kind of places that wouldn't have deep fryers. Perhaps they've grown up while I wasn't paying attention.

                      1. re: Hal Laurent
                        baltoellen Jun 9, 2008 05:37 PM

                        Fries and gravy IS one item, the same way that macaroni and cheese IS referred to in the singular.

                      2. re: baltoellen
                        h
                        hon Jun 9, 2008 05:44 PM

                        I love fries and gravy, whats not to like!

                        1. re: hon
                          h
                          Hal Laurent Jun 9, 2008 06:05 PM

                          Fries and gravy are great, but I still don't think they're the right accompaniment for pit beef.

                          1. re: Hal Laurent
                            b
                            baltimorejim Jun 9, 2008 07:42 PM

                            BTW I went to Philadelphia yesterday and while I did not type in pit beef does anyone recall seeing a pit beef thread on NOLA, San Francisco, or Midwest boards? I think we take it for granted here but maybe it is more uncommon than we realise.

                            1. re: Hal Laurent
                              w
                              Wangus Jun 9, 2008 08:17 PM

                              My dad was the one who got me into loving pit beef/pit ham and touring across the county and city for good pit beef. He's always gotten the 'Pit Beef Platter' which was basically wheat toast on a plate with fries and pit beef stacked on top and then all of it slathered with beef gravy. It's actually pretty good.

                              As for the OP. I really enjoy Andy Nelson's Pit Beef and Fast Eddie's in Bel-Air. I do like the sear on the outside of Chap's pit beef and the fact that they'll serve the beef raw.

                        2. re: Hal Laurent
                          b
                          baltimorejim Jun 9, 2008 07:29 PM

                          I am not an expert on the origin of fries with gravy but I do have favorite places for french fried potatoes. One was The Canopy in Ellicott City but only during what I used to think was their busy lunch hour when the oil is hot and the french fries were dry and crisp.

                          Perhaps the french fries with pit beef evolved as the pit beef migrated from bull roasts to road side stands and sides were added at customers or operator's wims.

                          1. re: baltimorejim
                            Dennis S Jun 10, 2008 07:04 AM

                            baltimorejim - I lean heavily to the thought that PB is a Baltimore born thing. That article by Stephen Raichlen seems to confirm that.

                          2. re: Hal Laurent
                            g
                            gregb Jun 10, 2008 06:40 AM

                            I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, Scranton area, where gravy fries were a staple no matter where you went… local diner, pizza joint, bar, or even the bowling alley. There are a significant amount of diner/home-cooked type places around which is probably the reason for this brown, turkey style gravy being dumped on everything. Back home, if you ordered fries, you would inevitably be asked "you want gravy on those?"
                            That being said, I'm not sure what the origin is of the whole gravy thing, but I know it is more of a norm in places outside of Baltimore.

                            1. re: Hal Laurent
                              w
                              WestIndianArchie Jun 10, 2008 08:13 AM

                              I guess i'll have to get the fries next time.

                              Definitely a lift day! Cause that's serious protein and carbs

                        3. re: gregb
                          c
                          charmedgirl Jun 10, 2008 07:31 AM

                          I grew up in Baltimore, and my entire extended family is from Baltimore, and I had never heard or thought about putting gravy on fries until college, when all my friends from New Jersey talked about it. Apparently it is big in the diners up there. Whether it began there, I have no idea, but I would be skeptical about it being considered a uniquely "Baltimore thing."

                  2. t
                    tartuffe Jun 6, 2008 01:41 PM

                    This thread has made me hungry. Here's a link to an article by Steve Raichlen on B-more pit beef, along with a recipe for same. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tartuffe
                      Dennis S Jun 7, 2008 03:57 AM

                      Thanks for that.

                    2. l
                      linusl Jun 5, 2008 11:17 AM

                      I know it's a bit of a hike from Baltimore, but Wargo's in Forest Hill (near Bel Air in Harford County) has really great pit beef on Saturday's. The rolls are made in-house and the beef is consistently great. They only have pit beef on Saturday afternoons and it's always crowded, but its worth the wait and the drive!

                      1. w
                        Whitemarshjohn Jun 5, 2008 11:03 AM

                        Chaps Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway (Rt 40 East) has always been good to me.

                        1. ko1 Jun 5, 2008 08:41 AM

                          Also see this thread from the day before your post:

                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/525392

                          1. k
                            KOK Jun 5, 2008 06:11 AM

                            I'll once again give a strong rec for Pioneer Beef right near Security Square Mall. If you've read the other pit beef posts, you'll see most agree.

                            They give you a slice to taste so you'll know how done it is. Quarters are cramped and they are stingy with napkins, but excellent beef and excellent fries as well.

                            Sorry to hear the JFX market beef wasn't that good. I've liked it in the past, but haven't been for over a year.

                            Kevin

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: KOK
                              g
                              gregb Jun 5, 2008 07:01 AM

                              I think my main problem with that sandwich was the toughness of the meat. I'm not sure if it had been cut incorrectly, or if I have just gotten a couple atypical sandwiches. Also, the fact that it's served on thin slices of white (or wheat) bread, really is unfortunate because I think a roll with a little more substance would be very beneficial for their pit beef. They are hard enough to eat with one hand while walking around dodging people... But by the time you are actually ready for a pit beef (sometime around 8:30 usually works for me), you are also trying to snag a bag of donuts while juggling the fresh softshells in the other hand! Throw me a bone and assemble the sandwich in a way that is not going to self destruct on me after bite #3. Before you know it, your softshells now have some raw onions to keep them occupied, and Migue's Magnificent Mini Donuts you waited 5 minutes in line for now have some horseradish mixed in with the cinnamon sugar (not as bad as it sounds). Also, the guy who throws the sausages on the grill and is in charge of making sure they are all positioned correctly is always smiling and smirking at me, which makes me slightly uncomfortable.
                              Am I the only one? Or does anyone else feel the same way about the whole experience?

                              All of this has made me really hungry. I can't wait to do it all again on Sunday!

                              1. re: gregb
                                Dennis S Jun 5, 2008 06:24 PM

                                Wow! I'm really in admiration. Do you regularly eat three meals at once?

                                I've been known for one after another, but I limit it to two. AND - you're crossing boundaries! Crab and donuts? That's gotta just take the prize right there!

                                As far as Pioneer - only had it once the past week, but it held together well.

                                1. re: gregb
                                  JonParker Jun 5, 2008 10:54 PM

                                  Well it's obvious to me that your technique is lacking. Here's what works, although some of it is dependent on arriving early:

                                  1. Arrive 7-7:15 and park right in front of market.
                                  2. Check out produce stands with an eye toward bulky items -- potatoes, strawberries, asparagus, whatever. Return bulky items to car.
                                  3. Walk to Zeke's and get coffee, then get donuts. At this point it helps if you have a companion, since one of you can hold the bag while the other takes a donut, then switch.
                                  4. Walk along and check out other items you like.
                                  5. Stop at pit beef guy and get sandwiches. Eat them at tables at the end of the condiment area.
                                  6. Walk through craft area and make another complete circuit of the market, grabbing whatever else caught your eye on the first time around (step 4). This is the time to buy green onions, herbs, eggs, pickled green tomatoes, etc. Stop for a refill on your Zeke's (only $1 this time).
                                  7. If needed, get bread from one of the bread vendors right before leaving.

                                  1. re: JonParker
                                    g
                                    gregb Jun 6, 2008 07:03 AM

                                    Well guys, I am embarrassed to say exactly what and how much I eat while at the JFX market. Jon, I am very impressed with your methodical dissection of your Sunday mornings! I, however, seem to be a little less organized probably because I don’t get there until 8:30 or so:

                                    1. Arrive 8:30, make a couple wrong turns looking for the parking lot adjacent to the market, since it magically changes its location every week. I’ve lived down here 2 years now and still can’t quite get my one-ways straight over there! (I’ll be the Black Hyundai holding up traffic.)
                                    2. Throw a quarter to my favorite peddler James, you all know who I’m talking about.
                                    3. Hit the pork stand near the entrance for a sausage biscuit, a good start to the day.
                                    4. Walk past the falafel stand wishing the quarter I gave James had been given to the “Our falafel stand doesn’t make enough money to buy a razor” bucket. Keep making those falafel guys, really good! But no falafel for me today.
                                    5. Grab a couple grapes from the orchard stand for a taste test. I usually tell them I’ll be back.
                                    6. Try a few cheese samples next to the creamery truck. Their smoked cheddar is really good, the rest are OK.
                                    7. Buy a fruit Danish from the bakery stand. Apple and cherry are good.
                                    8. Ask the person per holding up a newspaper if George W Bush is able to run for a 3rd term. They love that!
                                    9. Talk to the cutting board guy for a while and then decide $60 is too much for a 6x6 cutting board, no matter how cool it looks.
                                    10. Pick up a couple soft-shells from the kids at the stand. Anyone else worried about child labor laws? I never see an adult around this stand. Great crabs though!
                                    11. Hit the omelet station. Ham, mushrooms, spinach, onions, and cheese with some of those potatoes on the side.
                                    12. Check out the exotic mushrooms.
                                    13. Hit the Asian stand for a couple of their chicken spring rolls.
                                    14. The next couple stands towards the east entrance is usually where I’ll pick up some lettuce, asparagus, onions, and whatever looks good and fresh.
                                    15. Stand in the crepe line behind a mother of 6 who all have walkie-talkies, which they think they need to use in order to communicate from one side of their red wagon to the other. Twenty minutes behind that has made me a little cranky especially when I see canned peaches and 4 blueberries thrown into my mildly torn crepe.
                                    16. I then make eye contact with Migue, he and I both know the $2.00 bag just isn’t going to cut it today, “double it up Migue!”
                                    17. Three donuts into my bag I decide I have way too many and my sweet tooth is pretty much taken care of at this point.
                                    18. Take a long lap and start preparing myself for the Pit Beef. While standing in line, I talk myself out of a combo and decide to go with just the beef. “How would you like your meat, sir?” they ask, “Medium-well…just kidding, give me the red stuff!”
                                    19. Now, my arms, stomach, and whole body hurt, and it’s time head back to the car so I can make my way up Calvert St. to catch mass and say some prayers for the gluttonous display I have just put on.

                                    1. re: gregb
                                      a
                                      aburkavage Jun 6, 2008 07:27 AM

                                      I think I've seen you there before!

                                      Why do those grapes always have seeds? Are you supposed to eat them or spit them out like sunflower seed shells?

                                      Ever tried any offerings from the hot sauce guy? That stuff is tasty!

                                      1. re: aburkavage
                                        g
                                        gregb Jun 6, 2008 07:46 AM

                                        I think those are the Connies, spit those seeds out!

                                        Hot sauce guy is solid. I have a bottle of his carribean hot sauce in the cupboard. Slather some of that on grilled bone-in chicken... Loffin!

                                      2. re: gregb
                                        m
                                        MarcDC Jun 6, 2008 12:02 PM

                                        as someone who's never been to the market, this post and Jon's above are really great for first timers.

                                        thanks

                                2. t
                                  tartuffe Jun 4, 2008 07:48 AM

                                  Midstake in address--just north of Padonia.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: tartuffe
                                    g
                                    gregb Jun 4, 2008 08:05 AM

                                    I think I have been there before... a big make-shift wood burning grill out front. You have to go inside and place the order with "Miss Rose" and then sit on some of the 20 year old, colorful, deck funiture next to the grill. Are we talking about the same place? If so, I would have to say that was certainly my best Pit Beef experience to date!
                                    That's for re-hashing my memory. I will have to get back there very soon!

                                    1. re: gregb
                                      t
                                      tartuffe Jun 4, 2008 12:30 PM

                                      That's the place.

                                  2. t
                                    tartuffe Jun 4, 2008 07:45 AM

                                    There's a good place on Falls rd just north of Shawan. It's in a derelct gas station so you might miss it, but it's good (I believe it's the one that was in Windy Valley. Go early--it can be out of beef by 1.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tartuffe
                                      m
                                      MDicecreamguy Jun 4, 2008 04:29 PM

                                      I think you're referring to Shortys

                                    2. e
                                      elegantelliot Jun 4, 2008 07:40 AM

                                      i prefer the charcoal deli off of York rd in timonium. right across the street from the Corner stable, which by the way has the best ribs in the area.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: elegantelliot
                                        h
                                        hon Jun 5, 2008 12:21 PM

                                        I haven't been to the Charcoal Deli but know people who love it.

                                        http://www.citypaper.com/eat/review.a...

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