Marc Attman’s family has been piling corned beef on rye bread for generations — a lineage that he expects could end with him.
Attman’s Deli on East Lombard Street is one of the last remaining holdouts of Baltimore’s famed Corned Beef Row. The deli has outlasted a number of its peers, and continues to serve sandwiches stacked high with corned beef, pastrami, smoked turkey and other deli favorites.
But Attman said the idea of taking over the family deli hasn’t garnered much interest from younger generations.
“When I’m done, I’m done,” Attman said. “I don’t think anyone else is interested in running our business.”
His problem isn’t unique. Overall, the number of traditionally Jewish delis and kosher bakeries in Baltimore has dwindled since the 1960s heyday of Corned Beef Row, when the 1000 and 1100 blocks of East Lombard Street were peppered with merchants. The Baltimore region has seen a string of recent high-profile closures. Lenny’s Delicatessen shuttered its Lombard Street location, across the street from Attman’s, last year. Suburban House in Pikesville closed in late December. And Goldman’s Kosher Bakery in Northwest Baltimore and its sister location, Pastries Plus, closed in early January.
The number of Jewish delis nationwide has shrunken as their place in Jewish culture has become less necessary, said Ted Merwin, executive director of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill and author of “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli.”
“The deli used to be in some ways a retreat, in some sense a place for Jews in particular to be able to enjoy each other’s company where there wasn’t all that pressure of the outside world,” Merwin said.
They were also destinations for Jewish specialty foods. Now, that’s not the case. In many instances, they’re not centered around religion or even kosher foods — it’s more about a vibe. Merwin pointed to details like lettering on signs resembling Hebrew characters, Yiddish humor or sexual innuendos (for instance, the Essen Room’s slogan is, “Where size does matter”), or the friendly relationship between owners and customers.
“Part of the problem is that it’s hard to define what a Jewish deli is because now so many of the foods that were only sold in Jewish delis are sold everywhere,” Merwin said. “Jewish foods like bagels and pastrami had long ago ceased to only be in Jewish establishments; they’re now ubiquitous in our culture, you don’t have to go to a deli to get them. … Jews assimilated but also the food assimilated.”
A number of recent deli and bakery closures have stemmed from retirements, and Attman expects his shop will one day meet the same fate. He said he’s asked his children, nieces, nephews and their children if they would be interested in taking over the family business, but he hasn’t found any takers.
Goldman’s Bakery, a kosher staple in Pikesville, closed last summer as brother and sister owners Max and Leah Cohen retired after more than 50 years in the business.
“It’s so exhausting,” Leah Cohn told the Sun in December. “I just want to relax. I want to read a book. I want to take a shower without taking a phone call. I just need some quiet time.”
That doesn’t mean Jewish delis and bakeries have disappeared from Baltimore entirely, though. At least one new establishments, the Essen Room in Pikesville, opened last year.
The food keeps drawing longtime customers and newcomers alike.
Yvette Harrison, a Catonsville resident, came to Attman’s for a corned beef sandwich on a recent Thursday. She had been coming to Jewish delis on Lombard Street since she was a child, and recalled the days when Lenny’s was bustling — before business soured there and it ultimately closed.
The consistency has kept her coming back to Corned Beef Row over the years, she said.
“Every time I would come here I’d come for the corned beef, and that’s always been my draw here,” Harrison said.
And while delis like Attman’s once served as gathering places primarily for the Jewish community, now they cater to customers from all backgrounds.
“You have the sense that this culture has gotten transferred from one ethnic group to another,” Merwin said.
Attman’s in particular draws a large African-American population.
“It’s a piece of Baltimore. You don’t see it everywhere,” Attman said. “It’s not like our restaurant is limited to one sector. We have all ZIP codes at our business.”
Some of the same faces have been behind the deli counter at Attman’s for decades, and many customers have been coming just as long, Attman said.
“What makes it special is hearing what other people eat,” Attman said. “If you’re a first-timer, people in front of you could have been coming in there 40 years.”
Marc Combs, a drywall contractor based out of Frederick, was one of those first-time customers when he stopped in for lunch on a recent weekday. He came to Lombard Street looking for Lenny’s, and opted for Attman’s instead.
“I don’t get down to Baltimore too much, so I figured while I was down here that’s exactly what I wanted to do was stop in and get a corned beef sandwich,” Combs, 45, said.
Although Attman has watched other delis come and go, he remains optimistic. He recently invested about $400,000 updating his deli’s kitchen and seating area. And as long as his deli is open, he said he’ll keep taking care of customers.
“That’s my business,” he said. “One sandwich at a time.”
Attman’s is just one of the delis worth biting into in the Baltimore area. Here are some of the other Jewish delis and bakeries worth a visit.
1019 E. Lombard St., Baltimore; 410-563-2666; attmansdeli.com
Part of Baltimore’s iconic Corned Beef Row, Attman’s has been in business since 1933. The deli also has a location in Potomac.
1427 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville; 410-486-5558; edmartdeli.com
Founded in 1958, Edmart offers gourmet and specialty foods, such as lox, knishes and desserts, in addition to deli classics like pastrami, brisket, and corned beef.
The Essen Room
25 Hooks Lane, Baltimore; 410-653-6682 / 410-653-7666; greatpastrami.com/pikesville
The Essen Room is among the Baltimore area’s newest Jewish delis. A sister location to the Kibitz Room in Cherry Hill, N.J., the Essen Room opened last year in the former Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. space at Hooks Village.
The Knish Shop
508 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville; 410-484-5850; knishshop.com
The Knish Shop in Pikesville serves deli staples as well as sushi, salads and carry-out meals for Shabbat.
9107 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills; 410-363-3353; lennysdeli.com
or 1525 Russell St., Baltimore; 443-931-4263; lennysdeli.com
Lenny’s Delicatessen closed its shop on Lombard Street last year, but it has two locations remaining in Owings Mills and at the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
2849 Smith Ave., Baltimore; 410-602-2233; millersdeli.com
Miller’s Deli at the Greenspring Shopping Center in Pikesville was established in 1963. The deli specializes in corned beef and serves breakfast all day as well as deli sandwiches and salads.
1127 E. Lombard St.; 410-276-7910; no website
Another holdout on Baltimore’s Corned Beef Row, Weiss Deli is a no-frills lunch spot serving up corned beef, roast beef, turkey and other deli sandwiches.
6711 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore; 410-764-1700; parisersbakery.com
Founded in 1889, Pariser’s Bakery sells breads, cakes, pastries, pies, knishes and other baked goods. The bakery also has a sister store in Israel.
Rosendorff’s Bakery (Baltimore Baked Goods)
1111 Greenwood Road, Baltimore; 410-318-8840; rosendorffchallah.com
Rosendorff’s specializes in challah, and also bakes other breads, muffins and cookies.
303 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore; 443-548-0370; sionsbakery.com
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Sion’s Bakery, established in 2003, offers baked goods including cookies, pies, breads, cakes and doughnuts.