Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Exit 35A: US-40 West (to Baltimore)

Route 40 bisects Baltimore, going from Catonsville (Exit 15), through the heart of the city itself, and then back out through Rosedale and Essex before heading into Harford County (Exit 33B). Exit 35 takes you to 40 at this end of the Beltway, either into the city (35A) or away from it (35B). I almost lumped these two exits together, since I hadn't driven far enough to find much of anything the first time. But I did get as far as Chesaco Road and while I did find a handful of not-so-big-chain restaurants, I did find lots and lots of motels.

Exit 35A:
Detour into Motel Land

Old motels, new motels, tiny, complex, crappy, seedy, at one time glamorous, and really no chains at all. There were also a few factories and 60-year-old companies in dusty 50's buildings. Oh, and did I mention the motels?

So again, very little to eat going this way. Most of what I did find was either closed for the day or closed forever (like one bakery I saw that was pretty much shuttered). The Little Texas Dance Hall (map) had an adjoining "pit beef and crab stand" - that's a combo that made me scratch my head. I thought pit beef would be nice right about then, but alas, not open. There was also the shiny, "yellow, blue and chrome" Happy Day Diner (map). This is one of many, many diners along Route 40, but the only one for miles along this stretch of it.

I was just about to stop in for some diner food (a burger to compare to the Broadway? Bel-Loc? Towson? Double T?) when I passed a sign advertising (among other things) "STEAMBURGERS".

Yes, "steamburgers"

My first thought? "What the hell is a steamburger?"

My second thought? "Damn, I passed it. Better turn around and find out."

The steamburger is one of many fast food dishes sold at the Stewart's Root Beer "Drive-In" (map). I never realized that Stewart's had a restaurant business. What they don't have is a "drive-in". If you want service, you're going to have to go inside. At least I assume you do, because I didn't wait for someone to come to me. And it didn't say it was one anyway. The Stewart's web site offers no helpful information, but Wikipedia gives a bit more info: the chain first opened as a drive-in (hence my wrong assumption that this one was, too) in Ohio, and today operates over 60+ locations, most of them in New Jersey (the main website for Stewart's just takes you to their Vineland, NJ, location, another taking you to their Kearny, NJ, restaurant), with others in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and (of course) Maryland. Seemingly, there are other Stewart's in the Old Line State, including Elkton and Mt. Airy.

It's not easy to miss the big menu with lots of little scrunched-together menu items on their plastic press-in-letter menu, despite the sweet 50's cars painted on the windows. One thing Stewart's does have is, of course, Stewart's on tap (duh) - root beer, diet root beer, orange and cream, etc. Plus, note their dizzying variety of burgers, hot dogs, Polish dogs, BBQ, fries (gravy, chili, chili cheese, OC, etc), buffalo wings, sundaes, crab-related, er, things, subs, shake, and the fascinating "steamburger". I finally bucked up and asked what this steamburger was: it's a loose ground beef sandwich on a hamburger bun - like a Sloppy Joe, but without the Manwich sauce (God, remember Manwich?).

The steamburger intrigued me sooooo much, so I got it - indeed, loose meat on a burger bun, with fries and a regular draft soda (I got diet root beer), for about $6.75. For just 30¢ more, I got cheese.

Half an hour later I was home with my steamburger combo meal (one of seven adult meal deals, plus three more for children). The fries might've been more edible had I eaten at Stewart's, but you live and learn.

The combo. I'm not talented enough to pull that background off again...

How can I describe this steamburger? Well, it wasn't the best thing I have ever eaten, but I easily see myself going back for more of this - it's good, fast comfort food. Hell, imagine the time saved by not forming it into a patty! More kudos to the draft root beer. It was diet, sure, but it definitely didn't taste like it. It's been a while since I had Stewart's root beer. A few days before that I'd had a Barq's Diet Root Beer. I must say: Barq's pales in comparison. It's like drinking root beer-flavored water once you've had Stewart's (much like Dunkin' Donuts pales in comparison to Krispy Kreme, or how Krispy Kreme is now paling in comparison to the Fractured Prune). Imagine it in float form. I could have even gotten a whole gallon of it if I wanted to - yes, they sell their root beer by the gallon. As for the fries? Eh, those I could do away with. They were pretty shriveled and some were hard. A few were just downright inedible. But again, I rarely find the French fry that is edible, pretty much anywhere. Maybe they're better when covered in chili?

Other photos:

This is Duke's Motel, probably one of the older motels. Imagine how many marriages have been ruined in motel rooms like these along this highway. Just boggles the mind, doesn't it?


This stretch of Route 40 is also famous for that other popular trucker destination: companies that sell stuff in bulk.

Oh look: another motel...

Places I visited:

Stewart's Root Beer (fast food / "drive-in" food) - 8202 Pulaski Hwy, Rosedale, MD 21237; Phone: (410) 686-2065
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Maybe
Places to look up later:

Happy Day Diner (diner) - 8302 Pulaski Hwy,
Rosedale, MD 21237; Phone: (410) 687-2129

Little Texas (bar / pit beef / crabs) - 8014 Pulaski Hwy, Rosedale, MD 21237; Phone: (410) 780-5181

Stewart's Rootbeer on Urbanspoon
For Stewart's Root Beer


Rachel said...

I love Stewarts! My grandpop has been going there since they opened. I am pretty sure they are not affilated with the other Stewarts, I used to do their food permits when I worked for the County and I remember that they were independently owned. The others don't seem to sell steamburgers either.

They do have a drive thru, it is an actual window on the side of the building and you sort of yell your order to them but a drive in would be more fun.

Another fun fact, they are only open from April-October.

John said...

I don't think I've seen a drive-in in a very long time. I wonder who came up with the idea of the "steamburger"? I have never heard of it before.

Rachel said...

I don't know, but my grandpop says that Stewarts was not the only place that sold them years ago. I actually was planning to post a recipe for one this summer, maybe I will go ahead and do that!

Summer said...

Thanks for trying it out! I drive by Stewart's all the time (on my way to Target and Ikea) but have yet to pull in and give it a shot. Now I have a craving for a root beer....

I'm also curious about the Pit Beef stand at the Gentleman's Gold Club but I just CAN'T go there. Seems popular though.

John said...

Rachel: I will be on the lookout for it.

Summer: Ah, Ikea. Their Swedish meatball meal is surprisingly tasty and cheap at the same time - only $4.50 when I had it. Is the Gold Club the same as the Little Texas? I didn't see it.

Summer said...

No, it's a strip club just east of 895 on 40. It's a big one, and they have "date night" with male and female strippers so everyone gets to have a good time... or something like that. I wonder if people actually do go there on dates? shudder....

anyway, the Pit Beef stand is inside the fence, so one would actually have to drive inside the fence and park to go in... It's just not something I can do. And I know it's probably not your cup of tea either. But I'm just SO curious! I've been looking at it for 3 years now!

I also like Ikea's $1 ice cream cones. yum!

Katie said...

Stewart's! My family and I always make a lunch trip there just before it closes for the winter. I haven't seen the owner there for a while now, but he's been there for at least 40 years. I would be so sad if these joint closed.

theminx said...

I remember driving up that strip of 40 on the way to Golden Ring Mall as a kid. Those are all "no-tell motels," btw. Never ate at the Stewarts, but I used to go line dancing at a place called the Country Palace that might well be Little Texas now.

Suni said...

The pit beef stand at the Gentleman's Gold club is Chaps. They are one of the top rated pit beef stands in the city, and have been raved about on chowhound and featured on the food network.

Chaps is great, you should go there if you get the chance. Good pit beef and gravy fries.

Also, if you get back to Stewarts try their onion rings.

Summer said...

Thanks for the info Suni! I had no idea it was that popular or had that kind of history. Ok, gonna have to stop in.

Christopher said...

It's not summer till I get to Stewarts for a steamburger and rootbeer. The fries are good, but u have to eat everything there while its hot and fresh.

And Summer...that pitbeef stand is pretty good, from what I remember. Its been a long time since I have been there. The best one around though has to be the charcoal grill in parkville though.

Longtime Res said...

Chaps pit beef has actually been reviewed by drive-ins, diners and Dives. We go out of our way to get food there. Prices are good and food is great. Stewarts is good old time drive in food. and in addition to bottles, you can get root beer and cream soda on tap. They have root beer floats, too. Those small hotels are reminiscent of our parents years when traveling long distance was done by car. You take off down the highway and go till you're tired then pull over to a roadside motel. No making reservations in advance. Some of these hang on making most of their cash from traveling temporary construction workers who rent by the week or month, but I think you're right about some bucks being made exchanging $$ for other satisfactions.