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".
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.
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?
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
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
For Stewart's Root Beer