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Sour beef and dumplings have long been a Baltimore-restaurant staple.
Sour beef and dumplings have long been a Baltimore-restaurant staple. (John Lindner / Baltimore Sun)

No one knows when Baltimore developed such a taste for a dinner of sour beef and dumplings. By tradition, old city restaurants served the dish on Thursday nights. Joan Schwartz Schellhase recalled that the dish was on the menu at her father-in-law, Otto Schellhase’s, place (Schellhase’s Restaurant, 412 N. Howard St.), on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“It was very popular, but the crab au gratin was delicious, too,” she said.

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This much recalled restaurant served its sour beef with gingersnap gravy. It arrived with butter and thin-sliced pumpernickel bread made in Canada and shipped to Baltimore. Customers also had a large glass of very cold beef that Schellhase chilled in a metal tub full of large ice chunks.

The restaurant closed in 1980.

There were other sour beef competitors, including the Haussner’s version in Highlandtown, where diners often ordered the signature dessert, glazed strawberry pie. The dish was popular at Munder’s in Lauraville, at Lissau’s in Arbutus, Winterling’s in Canton and the Deutsches Haus on Cathedral Street. Local sour beef aficionados argued among themselves which recipe was superior.

The tradition remains. Volunteers at Zion Lutheran Church, City Hall Plaza, Lexington and Holliday streets, will serve their version of the meal beginning at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 23 and repeat it the next day. The dinner is homemade and old-fashioned. Baltimoreans mark their calendars for the event, which also includes red cabbage, live German music, beer and wine.

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