Ray Evans wants the unobtainable: A Harley Original splashed with the special hot sauce that has disappeared since the sandwich shops closed.
Evans, 57, who repairs MGs and Jaguars in Glen Burnie, grew up on the foods that the king of cold cuts and delicious jazz offered to Baltimore from the 1940s through the 1980s.
"I'd like to get the recipe or find somebody who could reproduce it. It came with the Harley Burger but I used to ask for it on the Harley Original, the cold cut sub that he made famous. It was great food," says Evans.
In their heyday, Harley sandwich shops dotted the commercial landscape. Harley sold his first sandwich at a stand he operated at Lexington Market in the 1940s. His first sandwich shop was at McMechen Street and Linden Avenue. Others followed: 5041 Reisterstown Road, 2235 Edmondson Ave., 1001 E. 25th St., 6416 Holabird Ave., 2047 E. Monument St. and 3203 Greenmount Ave. The chain was open all night. Some customers got addicted to Harley's submarines.
"He just knew what to put in a sandwich. I can taste that special sauce now. It was tomato-based. And hot," Evans says.
Alas, the sauce disappeared when the last of the shops closed after Harley Brinsfield died in 1990.
There's a consensus that Harley himself was one of Baltimore's great original characters. He was born deep on the Eastern Shore, just outside of the crossroads of Eldorado in Dorchester County. He was an old friend of the late Millard Tawes, governor of Maryland from 1959 to 1967, who named him to the State Roads Commission. Harley never drove a car. He regularly walked down St. Paul Street from his home in the Marylander Apartments with thousands of dollars rolled up in his baggy pockets. He loved to talk.
Harley said he developed his treasured sandwich recipes when he served in the Merchant Marine. His submarine may have its origins in a New Orleans po boy sandwich. But it wasn't by sandwiches alone that he became so well known along the East Coast. He bought time on local radio stations at night (beginning in 1948 on WITH, then WSID, WCBM, WBAL from 1958-1974 and back to WITH in 1974). His "Harley Show" was -- unconsciously -- some of the greatest local radio in Baltimore.
Who can't remember a night somewhere around 1967? You're driving around Druid Lake and Harley is playing a wild 1931 Fletcher Henderson tune. Or Lee Wiley singing "I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too." There was just something about Harley's choice of music at 11:15 at night. It was magic.
His voice was gravelly and he was fun and didn't take himself too seriously. His personality came through stronger than a batch of his hot sauce. Harley loved classic jazz and its related forms of popular music. His own collection must have been huge. He often played on air his original records from the '20s, '30s and '40s.
At the very end of his program, Harley spun a 45-rpm record on the turntable. It was Bob Scobey's Frisco Band in a 1950s version of a 1913 song, "Sailing Down Chesapeake Bay," featuring vocalist Clancy Hayes. The song was not great jazz. It was fun pops and was supposed to have been written by a Maryland Club maitre d'.
Harley must have heard that infectious ragtime number in his youth. Everybody who ever listened to the jazz master knew it. And while the Harley hot sauce isn't around, at least the words of that song are:
Round the bend I think I see a steamer, dear --
Headin' here, to this pier;
And we can make if we hurry, never fear,
It's the Old Dominion Line.
Say, don't she look pretty as she hugs the shore,
Headin' for -- Bal-ta-more?
Just hear the paddles turnin',
Hear my heart a-yearnin' --
She's the queen of the Chesapeake Bay.
Come on, Nancy, put your best dress on,
Come on, Nancy, 'fore the steamboat's gone.
Ev'rything is lovely on the Chesapeake Bay,
L All aboard for Baltimore -- if we're late we'll all be sore.
Then come on, Captain, let us catch that boat,
'Cause we can't swim, Mister, we can't float!
Banjos ringing a good old tune,
Up on deck there's a place to spoon.
Settle down close 'neath the silvery moon,
A-sailin' down the Chesapeake,
All aboard for Chesapeake,
Sailing down Chesapeake Bay.