Pit beef pulls them in



August 28, 2008|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Pioneer Pit Beef in Woodlawn does not accept credit cards. It is open only six hours a day. It does not have a telephone number you can call to place an order. You have to stand in line, sometimes a long one, and wait. It has very limited seating, one picnic table set up outdoors.

Yet the customers flock there. Starting around lunchtime every day except Sunday, the cars with husbands and wives, the trucks driven by plumbers and the vans piloted by BGE workmen wheel into the Pioneer parking lot. This is a place folks probably smell before they see. A smokestack on the roof sends an enticing smoky perfume into the roaring traffic of nearby Interstate 70.

This is not a yogurt-for-lunch crowd. Patrons come for the sandwiches - pit beef, pit turkey and pit ham cooked over wood - and the fries with gravy.

Most grab the food and go; a few dine in the parking lot, sitting behind the wheel.

Ask them why they patronize this joint, and the customers talk about service, value and flavor.

"They give you the sandwich like you want it," said Jack Heatley of Catonsville, who likes his pit beef well-done but not dry.

"You can never go wrong eating pit beef," said Woodrow Collins of Columbia, who with his wife, Carol, stopped by for sandwiches while running errands. The pit-beef sandwich for $5.50 is a bargain, he said.

For Juanita Dehoff, the appeal is the brown gravy, which she gets on her fries. "I get two tons of gravy," she said. She describes herself as a loyal customer who has "been coming here for 10 years."

Best bite

The sandwich of choice here is the $5.50 pit beef cooked over wood. I got mine medium-rare. As the counterman cuts the beef, he gives the customers a sample slice. It is a nice touch. The beef - top round, I believe - was reasonably juicy but was helped with a sauce made of horseradish and mayonnaise.

Also tasted

I also tried the pit-turkey sandwich, $5.50, which was moist but had little pit flavor, and the pit ham, $5.50, which tasted slightly better than baked ham.

The $2.50 french fries with gravy, a dish that I know is a Baltimore favorite, was too heavy for me. The coleslaw, 75 cents a cup, was above average.

It is not cuisine, but lunch at Pioneer Pit Beef is smoky and satisfying.

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