I’ve known about pit beef since the last time I lived in Maryland, and I had eaten it a couple of times back then. My response? Meh. It wasn’t smokey, like barbecue, or saucy, like barbecue. I confess, I didn’t get it. The few times I had pit beef it seemed like a dry pile of shaved meat on way too much of a bland roll. But, when someone I was talking to in California knew more about a pit beef place in Baltimore than me, someone currently living just outside of Baltimore, I decided to take the bull by the horns. So, I went to Chaps Charcoal Restaurant to find out what all the fuss was about.
Chaps Charcoal Restaurant sits in the parking lot of a, um, nite club called The Gentleman’s Gold Club. This is just a discreet way of saying strip club. The story, as told by Chaps, is that the owner of the strip club gave the pit beef shack to his daughter when she married because her new husband liked to cook so much. And pit beef gold was born. Both of these businesses have quite a bit of confidence in their abilities: Chaps alleges they have the “best pit beef, turkey and pork” in Maryland, and The Gentleman’s Gold Club claims to be Baltimore’s only “Upscale Gentlemans club” [sic]. The Gentleman’s Club goes on to note on their website that they are perfect for birthday, bachelor, and divorce parties.
As for Chaps, it has been featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” and also on the Travel Channel’s “Amazing Eats.” While I personally found the Travel Channel segment more interesting, Chaps seems more connected to their visit from Guy Fieri. Here is what you see when you walk in:
I was warned by my dining companion that Chaps meant serious business and that I better have myself together before I got to the counter. This included keeping my order simple, and to the point, so no When-Harry-Met-Sally-salad-dressing-on-the-side nonsense, you dig? Naturally, I poo-poohed this advice, but signage did decree “No split checks between 11:00-3:00,” which I couldn’t make sense of and since I had plenty of time while waiting in the long line, I puzzled through this, out loud, making friends all along the way, I am sure. The puzzle went something like this: why would they have a sign like that? Split checks are for people at tables who want to pay individually, not collectively, and yes, split checks can be annoying when a server is busy. But, since at Chaps you order at a counter, why would you split a check? You order and pay for what you want, and then the next person goes. That’s the point of a counter. How could Chaps have a big enough problem with split checks to necessitate a sign against it? I never did figure it out and since it was literally 100 degrees outside while we were waiting in line I figured I better let it go since that kind of heat produces a general fretfulness and fraying of tempers.
After I ordered — very quickly and clearly, mind you, I noticed another sign by the pick-up counter which said, “No Sniveling” which annoyed me because I don’t like it when pit beef shacks try to tell me how to behave. I think Chaps could try a little positive reinforcement instead, but I suppose they don’t need any advice from me when they have Guy Fieri on their side.
Here’s the thing: the food was good. I ordered a Pit Beef Combo, medium rare. The combo part is that they throw some Italian sausage on top. It’s served on a Kaiser roll, which was not too bready, much to my relief. I dressed it with some sliced raw onion and some tiger sauce, which is horseradish sauce mixed with mayonnaise. And it was very delicious.
One of the specials that day was called the Richman which I assume is a reference to Adam Richman from the Travel Channel. This sandwich was beef, turkey, sausage, and corned beef on a sub roll. Here it is, along with their fries:
A quick look on Wikipedia (I know, I know) confirms that Baltimore pit beef is indeed different from barbecue because even though it is grilled over charcoal, it uses no rubs, marinades or sauces. Pit beef uses top round shaved very thinly and served on a Kaiser roll with the sliced raw white onion and tiger sauce mentioned before.
Well, Chaps, I have to say that even though I was predisposed to dislike pit beef because of my prior experiences, and predisposed to dislike you because you like Guy Fieri so much, I did thoroughly enjoy my pit beef combo. I would definitely do it again, which means I am on the hunt for more Maryland pit beef places to explore. Readers?? Please chime in!