I used to live in the city. I used to live on East Baltimore Street by the western edge of Patterson Park in Butchers Hill back when re-gentrification was first taking hold, and rats and addicts and undercover cops still wandered the alleyways. Shortly after I moved there, the city decided to help support the efforts of the well-intended yuppies homesteading in the neighborhood and engaged in some beautification. This included repaving the sidewalks and adding some very attractive brick inlay work. It also included placing giant potted plants on the corners. They lasted until sometime around bar time of the first night. At the time, my friends and I laughed at this with jaded cynicism. It was, however, the beginning of a significant change. I left the neighborhood before this change was complete, and am now amazed when I drive through it on my way out to my current home in the suburbs.
I used to spend Fridays drinking in Fells Point in the now defunct Miss Irene's, home to bikers, artists, Johns Hopkins residents from foreign countries, and other assorted oddballs. I used to wake up too early on Saturday mornings from a restless, beer-fueled semi-sleep with a rough edge. But I was still young and thought I had the cure for a hangover. My cure entailed throwing on a pair of shoes and a coat over my jammies and driving down to Attman's Deli for a fresh potato knish and a Dr. Brown's Cherry Cola. And, while Butchers Hill is now fully re-gentrified and Miss Irene's has become an upscale bistro, Attman's is blissfully unchanged.
Attman's is a staple of the Baltimore landscape. It sits alongside Lenny's Deli on a two-block stretch of Lombard Street that used to be known as Corned Beef Row as at one time it boasted a number of classic delis that were rumored to rival New York's finest. I can vouch for this claim as the pastrami Reuben I get at Attman's is still better than any sandwich I've gotten in New York. I took the hike up there for my Friday lunch this week and, as usual, was not disappointed.
I love that they even offer a pastrami Reuben. I find this to be superior to the traditional corned beef mostly because I find pastrami to be a superior cold cut. The peppery flavor adds a little zest to the sandwich, and the texture of the meat is more like actual meat and doesn't have that graininess of corned beef. And their cold cuts are cut on the meat slicer right in front of you as you order, so your sandwich comes to you with freshly sliced meat. The lady in front of me ordered her roast beef shaved, and she got to see a sample slice before her sandwich was made.
Attman's uses good Jewish rye bread. The slices are thin but substantial and can carry the weight of their meaty sandwiches, even the notoriously damp Reuben. They use a generous amount of Thousand Island dressing on both slices and nestle the still-crisp sauerkraut on the inside between two slices of Swiss cheese and all that fresh-cut deli meat. It even survived my five-block walk back to the office. Wrapped in deli paper and then foil, the sandwich was still warm when I got to my desk. And, the bread held together while I ate, without the almost inevitable sauerkraut downfall that has afflicted my other Reuben experiences.
Even though it's been years since I visited Attman's, very little has changed about the quality of their food. That consistency is comforting and a little reassuring when so much else about my former life has changed, or even disappeared altogether. Standing in the narrow space between their counter and their beverage coolers, I felt a little nostalgic for my early years in Baltimore that now seem so reckless in comparison to my current life. Sometimes you can go back home, and Attman's is proof that sometimes some things really don't change, and in this case it is a very good thing.
Attman's remains one of my all-time favorite lunch spots in the city, as well as a genuine slice of Baltimore culture. While Corned Beef Row may be a shadow of what it once was, Attman's continued to serve up quality deli meats and sandwiches to a packed house seven days a week with a brisk and personal efficiency that comes from 100 years of service. They also offer catering.
Attman's Deli is located at 1019 East Lombard Street within walking distance of the Harbor East, Inner Harbor, and Little Italy neighborhoods. Metered street parking is available.