On the verge of turning 30, Chaps Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway celebrated its middle age by opening an offshoot Chaps in Aberdeen in June.
Original Chaps owners Donna and Robert Creager, who run the new place, have watched their modest pit beef stand grow into a local treasure that's garnered national attention. It's been featured on various Food Network and Travel Channel shows. (One of the restaurant's sandwiches, Guy's Triple D, is even named after TV celebrity chef Guy Fieri of Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.")
Chap's draw is the thinly sliced, smoky, charcoal-cooked meat prepared as sandwiches, and platters and served with house-made side dishes like gravy fries and baked beans. The Aberdeen eatery is the first step in the Creagers' plan to expand the Chaps franchise, with more locations planned.
The only thing the Harford County location is missing is a strip club like on Pulaski Highway.
The offerings are the same at both places, but it's been simplified at Aberdeen to allow customers to create their own sandwiches. They can pick the meat, bread and toppings.
But there are also specialty sandwiches like The Richwich, with pit beef, corned beef, turkey and sausage, and The Gus, with corned beef, ham and turkey.
The lone dessert, housemade rice pudding, is a big seller at the Aberdeen location, Creager said.
"It's more family friendly," she said of the new Chaps. "We see a lot more kids."
Scene & Decor: The new restaurant in a strip shopping center is a brighter, shinier version of the original Chaps on Pulaski Highway. Dozens of 20-pound bags of charcoal greet customers as they walk in the door, reminding them that their food will be grilled to sizzling goodness over a fire. One wall showcases early photos of the original Chaps and info about its history. There are individual tables and communal seating at gleaming wood picnic tables for diners.
Appetizers: They are not billed as appetizers, but a la carte items like the flavorful beef chili, made from scratch, ($6) and the fresh Caesar salad ($6.50) are good starters.
Entrees: Of course, we had to try Guy's Triple D sandwich ($9.50), an obscene, delicious mound of beef, corned beef and sausage piled into a roll. We also enjoyed a juicy pork barbecue sandwich ($7.75). As many times as we've been to the original Chaps, we hadn't had the pork ribs ($9, one pound). I'm glad we remedied that at the Aberdeen location; these are meaty, saucy, messy ribs. The too-gooey cheddar cheese fries ($4) we ordered as a side were less successful. One of our favorite sandwiches never disappoints: The grilled turkey Rachel is stacked with Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and coleslaw on rye bread ($9).
Drinks: Sodas ($1.99) are the only options, but eventually, the restaurant will serve beer and wine, Donna Creager said.
Service: Guests order at a counter, then take the food to their tables.
Dessert: The old-fashioned rice pudding ($3), topped with cinnamon, really tastes like creamy rice. It's a soothing ending after all the protein.
Chaps Pit Beef
Backstory: Gus Glava and his daughter and son-in-law, Donna and Robert Creager, opened the first Chaps in a small stand in 1987, which expanded over the years. The Aberdeen location, owned by the Creagers, is the initial expansion of the business. They are planning others and considering a D.C. location next.
Signature dish: Pit beef sandwich
TVs: There are two TVs, which were tuned to the Food Network when we visited
Where: 1013 Beards Hill Road, The Corner at Beards Hill shopping center, Aberdeen
Contact: 410-297-8700, chapspitbeef.com
Open: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Does not accept
Bottom line: If you're heading north on Interstate 95, definitely plan to take a detour to the Harford County Chaps. It's a short jaunt off the main highway. The food is equal to that of the Pulaski Highway store.