If you visit Attman's Deli on a Saturday afternoon, as I did, you'll likely encounter a line of customers snaking out the door, sometimes growing to lengths that make fire marshals bite their nails. I was all set to assume that this many people couldn't be wrong, but then I remembered waiting in line for a water ride back in 1993, only to find that it was disappointingly subpar. I didn't want to leave Attman's as I had left that amusement park -- cold, angry and reeking of chlorine.
Fortunately, I can assure you that the wait at Attman's is worth it. But then, you've probably heard that by now, as Attman's has a well-cemented reputation among Charm City's cheap eats fanatics. The deli is inarguably the most popular on Corned Beef Row, that cordial line of Jewish eateries that has long since cooked its way into the history books. Attman's menu advertises itself as an "Authentic New York Delicatessen (Only Better)." Indeed, Attman's is not only proud of its heritage but refreshingly arrogant about it. Customers who choose to eat in can also do so in "Stuart Attman's World Famous Kibbitz Room."
Attman's main counter is plastered with signage, making for plenty of interesting reading while you wait to order. In fact, you might find yourself searching for the menu amid all the marginalia, which includes instructions on how to talk to the employees ("CORNED BEEF, RYE, MUSTARD - PERIOD") and how to pay with food stamps. Feminists will cluck their tongues at a drawing of a tastefully nude woman -- save the cowboy hat -- whose backside has been apportioned and labeled as meat. (Her arm is a Jewish hot dog, but her ass is "HOT PASTRAMI.")
Despite the hustle and bustle of deli life, Attman's employees manage to be efficient and helpful. They have a keen eye for newcomers and listened patiently as I scrambled to order. To help keep things moving, they often bark orders at each other in some unintelligible delicatessen shorthand that is always a treat to hear. While I opted to get the classic corned beef sandwich ($5.99), Attman's "World Famous Combination Sandwiches" have names that make them equally tempting -- the "Gay Liveration" ($7.99), for instance, which features chopped liver, or the "Tongue Fu" ($12.49), for anyone itching for a mouthful of beef tongue.
If none of this is convincing, look no further than the beverage case, which has a surprisingly decent beer selection and -- the coup de grace -- Royal Crown Cola. That's right: your days of Coke and Pepsi are over. R.C. Cola, that lovable long-time underdog, is available front-and-center at Baltimore's preeminent deli. And if that doesn't make you want to go, nothing will.
Dish: Assuming that Attman's is actually "World Famous," it's because of the corned beef sandwich, a no-frills piece of bovine heaven that tastes straight out of New York City, except that it's from Baltimore. If you've never been to Attman's before, this is the thing to try -- and if you're a regular, this is probably the reason why.
Damage: At $5.99, the sandwich isn't exactly the bargain of the century, but when you see the amount of corned beef you get, you won't be complaining. Top it off with a can of R.C. Cola -- or, if you're a square, one of the more mainstream brands -- for another buck, and you'll still be walking out with at least enough coin to buy a gumball.
Decision: Vegetarians and snobs should get out and stay out, but for most of Baltimore, this should be the deli of choice. They don't call it "Corned Beef Row" for nothing, after all.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun