So I'm in Coffman's Snack Bar and ask the waitress innocently enough, "What kind of pie do you have?"
"I don't know," she shoots back, staring at me. After a disconcerting pause, she asks, "You want me to check?"
Ummm, OK, if it's not too much trouble.
Finally, she smiles.
So it goes at this unassuming Middle River institution. The food is cheap and basic; the service is determinedly obstinate. Needless to say, I'm going back.
Coffman's occupies a spot on a well-traveled Middle River corner, between an insurance office and a barbershop. It began life after World War II as Coffman's Barrel, launched by a transplanted West Virginian, Wiley Ray Coffman, who had come to Baltimore to work for Glenn L. Martin's aircraft company.
Today, it has a small front counter room and a busier, smoky back dining area, decorated with pictures of old aircraft and Coffman's old friends. The waitresses seem to know everyone who comes in, and nobody, except me, asks to see a menu.
The lunch menu itself could be memorized in a couple of minutes: hamburger, hot dogs, fish sandwich and chicken sandwich about covers it. But most customers stick with the hot dogs. They cost $1.15 apiece and come with chopped raw onions, mustard and chili sauce. The dogs were nothing special, but I happily polished off two.
I washed them down with a delicious, thick strawberry milkshake ($2.50) that was made with ice cream and included chunks of strawberries, a nice treat at the bottom of the glass.
A hamburger featured a surprisingly good piece of meat for a sandwich costing $1.35. The chicken sandwich was a piece of grilled chicken breast on a bun and cost $2.99.
Coffman's sells store-bought desserts - doughnuts and pie (if you can get the waitress to tell you what kinds they have). The lemon meringue pie ($1.25) I tried was adequate. Coffman's also has a very basic breakfast menu.
Coffman's Snack Bar
Waiting area: **
Where: 2101 Orems Road, Middle River
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Prices: Hot dogs, hamburgers and breakfast, all under $5; no credit cards