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July 29, 2007

Attman's Delicatessen

Dominic Armato
The view from the back of the line... after the lunch rush.

I believe I've found the first place in Baltimore that I'll dearly miss when we skip town in two years. Though a kick-ass food town in almost every other manner, Chicago has always been a big disappointment in the deli department. But we're East Coasters now, at least temporarily, and while I doubt Baltimore will be challenging New York for deli supremacy anytime soon, it's already running circles around my hometown.

Attman's Delicatessen has been around for nearly a century, now on its third generation of ownership, and when you stick around that long it generally means you're doing something right. Not that bodies per square meter should be mistaken for an indication of quality, but the place is a zoo. I've spread three visits across days, evenings and weekends, and have never had fewer than seven people in front of me in line. In typical Baltimore fashion, it's a painfully narrow space, with the refrigerator case and a phalanx of deli slicers separating the patrons, who can barely stand two abreast, from the dozen or so employees, who shouldn't be able to stand two abreast but somehow manage to scuttle past one another, usually bearing large hunks of meat overhead.

Dominic Armato
Attman's serves up all manner of deli standards, though the corned beef and pastrami are clearly the crown jewels, piled high in a warming box behind the deli slicers. Every sandwich is freshly sliced and assembled to order, as it should be, and one even has the option of requesting the meat "extra lean", though why anybody would want to so violate such a beautiful piece of meat is beyond my comprehension. Cured beef aside, the cooler is filled with salads, spreads and some cured fish, and barrels lining the counter contain a large variety of pickled vegetables. Though they prominently feature their kosher hot dogs (topped with bologna?), my preferences in that arena are perhaps a little too ingrained to give them a fair shake. As such, sensing a strength, I've mostly been sticking to the sandwiches. Attman's seems to work primarily on a carry-out basis, but they do provide seating in the adjoining "Kibbutz Room" if you'd prefer to stay put. The Kibbutz Room is longer on character than it is on comfort, but if you can shoehorn yourself into a seat it'll give you a place to rest your elbows while you chow down.

Dominic Armato
I started with the basics, corned beef and pastrami, and was thoroughly pleased by both offerings. Attman's slices their corned beef rather thin, then piles it up. Though they offer the "New York style" gutbusters that contain half a cow, the standard is a modestly sized (and priced) sandwich that could even be considered slightly small by today's oversized standards. The meat is delicious, warm, tender, moist and fatty enough to be flavorful without being obscene. While I've had my fair share of (mostly underwhelming) corned beef, I'm grossly undereducated when it comes to pastrami. If Attman's is any indication, I need to do some further exploration in this regard. The pastrami is sliced a little thicker, and possessed of a peppery, garlicky crust surrounding an unctuous, silken core. This is fairly potent stuff.

Dominic Armato
The menu also contains the obligatory litany of specialty sandwiches, covering almost every combination and permutation of available ingredients. While Attman's has mercifully opted NOT to name them after celebrities, there are still a few colorful titles up on the board -- the Cloak and Dagger, the Lox O' Luck and the Tongue Fu, among others. Ingredient-wise, however, it was the Gay Liveration that tickled my fancy, so I gave that one a try. It's a double-decker, with corned beef, lettuce, Bermuda onion and a thick layer of Attman's chopped liver. The chopped liver, incidentally, would be a great intro for the otherwise organ-averse. It's smooth, creamy and fairly sweet, but while it has a rather clean flavor, it isn't trying to masquerade as anything other than liver. Great sandwich. On my last visit, having toured some other offerings, I finally humored my reuben obsession. I adore reubens. And while I was a little disappointed to discover that the bread was more like toast (I think my tastes tend more towards a very crispy, griddled diner-style), I can hardly fault a counter deli for serving it in such a manner, and it's a beautiful sandwich, even if it doesn't quite nail every one of my unreasonably specific preferences.

I also carried out some bagels and a lox cheese which was, much to my pleasure, actual lox blended with actual cream cheese. I know I shouldn't be so easily impressed, but I've had enough godawful fakey versions of the same that I've learned to put my defenses up the moment I place the order. The only thing that's disappointed thus far was my ladylove's matzo ball soup, which only reinforces that the sandwiches are really where it's at. But I can't say this bothers me. Kibbutz Room or no Kibbutz Room, Attman's isn't really a restaurant and I don't expect much from soups when it comes to carry-out establishments. It is, however, a place out of time -- one that, I suspect, looks and tastes pretty much the same as it did for the previous two generations.

Attman's Delicatessen
1019 E. Lombard St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
410-563-2666
Mon - Sat8:00 AM - 6:30 PM
Sun8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Comments

Dominic,
I disagree somewhat. Chicago, of which I am a native, has some decent delis. I say decent because they are not great but decent. The top of the list is Manny's, Roosevelt and Jefferson. That's some pastrami and corned beef to really get the taste buds flowing. And they are really the only ones to do it up cafeteria style still which I think is impressive.
Love the blog, I hotlink to yours on mine, btw.

Oh, I love Manny's. But if anything, I think they're the exception that proves the rule :-)

Attman's might be my favorite place to eat in all of Baltimore.

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