Pit-beef joint doesn't fit the carryout categories

TAKEOUT

March 24, 2004|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's impossible to place the Charcoal Deli in Cockeysville in any one carryout category. Imagine a Baltimore-style pit-beef joint crossed with boardwalk cuisine, served with a side of Western ranch flair. What's more, the place sits next to a pool hall, around the corner from a couple of other smoky rib-and-beef places, making this spot the barbecue epicenter of Baltimore County.

To add to its eclectic appeal, the Charcoal Deli, open year-round, looks a little like a diner you might imagine in Dodge City. Instead of being seated, though, customers remain outside on a wooden platform, order through one window and collect their grub at another. You can watch the staffers inside as they work. (There's also a piece of graffiti intended, no doubt, for customers too preoccupied to place their order: "Put the phone down ... you're not that cool.")

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, a sign bids customers to be patient because the eatery was short of help. But business was slow, and our dinner came together quickly.

On its own, the pit-beef sandwich ($4.20), Charcoal Deli's pride and joy, was a bit bland and begged for fixings. Horseradish, lettuce, tomatoes and onions compensated for a dearth of smoky flavor.

The smoked pit turkey sandwich ($4.60) was peppery and could easily survive on its own, although a dab of mustard would add a nice something. A burger ($3.10) was flame-grilled and thick, but nothing special.

The Caesar salad ($6.75) came with a choice of grilled chicken flavored with Cajun, Old Bay, BBQ or "XXX Hot" flavoring. We opted for Old Bay, which gave the Caesar dressing a good fight. In the end, it was a flavorsome draw.

The Buffalo wings ($6.75) were meaty and coated with a zesty sauce, accompanied by blue cheese, carrots and celery. The "famous fresh-cut beach fries" ($1.65) were yummy and salty, while a pasta salad ($1.75) was puny, but tangy and good.

Desserts are made in-house, but the only selection during our visit was a brownie ($.99), which was not particularly moist.

Charcoal Deli

Food: ** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Waiting area: **

Parking: ***

Where: 22 Church Lane, Cockeysville

Phone: 410-666-3730

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Open-pit sandwiches, ribs, chicken wings and burgers, from $3.10 to $15.25; no credit cards accepted

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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