Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deli Belly

When I was a kid, I ingested more than my fair share of deli food. At first we shopped at Jack's on Baltimore's Famous "Corned Beef Row," but eventually turned to Attman's for our Jewish-style beef fix. I loved going there with my dad because in addition to extra lean corned beef and roast brisket, dry-but-delicious meat knishes, and "well done" Kosher pickles, we would usually pick up a bologna-wrapped hot dog to share in the car on the way home.

Attman's was a regular stop before Summertime excursions to my aunt's house. In the colder months, Aunt Stasia would usually whip up some elaborate Sicilian-style eats, but when it was too hot to cook, we were all happy with corned beef sandwiches washed down with plenty of her sweet lemonade.

It's been years since I've had a really good corned beef or roast beef sandwich. In my mind, the meat in both cases must be well-cooked brisket, a cut so spider-webbed with thin strands of fat that slices stretch like an accordion when pulled from both ends. This webbing also ensures that the meat breaks cleanly when bitten, a quality much preferable than that of meat so resilient that a bite pulls out an entire slice, the result of which requires the removal of mustard from one's chin.

(Since I mention mustard, I must also mention my possibly-odd condiments rule: mustard on pink meat, mayonnaise on gray or white meat. Any other combination is wrong. So...mustard on hot dogs, corned beef, pastrami, bologna, and ham. Mayo on roast beef, turkey, chicken, and tuna. Spicy Italian-style cold cuts like salami are an exception - they require vinaigrette. This whole weirdness might stem from a particular elementary school lunch of ham-and-bologna subs that were heavily dressed with mayonnaise and very thinly sliced white onion. I found the combination so revolting that I would usually consume only the meat, wiped clean on my napkin. And I've never been a picky eater.)

So where was I? Oh yes, a good corned beef sandwich.

During the Christmas holiday, as Mr Minx and I were running errands in the vicinity, I suggested that we stop at Attman's for some corned beef and his deli meat of choice, pastrami. My family was never into pastrami. Nothing against it, it was just not a part of our dining repertoire (which, admittedly, was fairly limited). To me, pastrami was merely corned beef with pepper on the outside, but then I'd never eaten good pastrami. The stuff we had at Jason's in Las Vegas some years ago (where the server was aghast that we asked for pastrami and mustard on rye, without tomatoes or cole slaw or bean sprouts or some other California-style rubbish) was corned beef with pepper. It was also sliced too thickly and required much chin-swabbing. It was absolutely meh. But Attman's pastrami, well, it was the real thing.

It was smoked. I had no idea pastrami was supposed to taste of smoke, but it does. Not only smoky, Attman's meat also had a visibly fatty interior, which gave it a melt-in-the-mouth texture, especially when sliced paper-thin. It was delicious.

With our extra-lean corned beef and fatty pastrami, we also bought a well-done Kosher pickle. While the corned beef tasted as I remembered, the pickle did not, and its mushy texture left much to be desired. The bread we used to assemble our sandwiches at Casa Minx was also an issue. Pepperidge Farm rye bread just doesn't compare to the crusty deliciousness that was Levin's seeded rye; unfortunately, the bakery that was once my family's one-and-only source for hleb is long gone, so I had to make do.

You thought I'd pile a pound of meat on my sandwiches? At $16 a lb
for extra lean? Are you meshugah?

Despite the shortcomings of the bread and the pickle, these were the best corned beef and pastrami sandwiches we've eaten in a long long time. It really pays to shop where people know what they're doing. And Attman's has been doing it right for almost 100 years.

Attman's
1019 E Lombard St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 563-2666

Attman's Authentic New York Delicatessen on Urbanspoon
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