Sunday, March 10, 2013

Revisiting the Beltway: One Last Trip around 695 (for the blog, that is)

As you may know, I finished the State-by-State project I've been posting up here every Sunday morning for the last few years.  For my final Sunday post, I have decided to revisit a previous project one last time: my Snacking around the Beltway series.  Due to crazy gas prices (which haven't really abated) and a total lack of time - in part exacerbated by said new project that lasted the last couple of years - I stepped away from it after examining every few exits around the Glen Burnie section of the Beltway (more or less Exits 1 - 8).

For this post, I summarize a few key spots I have visited throughout the rest of the Beltway.  Yes, I'm squeezing Exits 9 through 44 into one longish post.  This is, I admit, an inadequate way to finish it up, but it is better than nothing.

As I did in my January 18, 2009, Final Assessment post of the original series, I will again divide the Beltway up into six sections:
  • the "Glen Burnie" section of the Beltway (south, Exits 1 through 8A) - I've already explored this one in more detail, so I'm not really coming back to it in this post.
  • the "Catonsville" section (southwest, Exits 9 through 16B)
  • the "Pikesville" section (northwest, Exits 17 through 22)
  • the "Towson" section (north, Exits 23A through 30B)
  • the "Essex" section (northeast, Exits 31A through 38B)
  • and the "Dundalk" section (southeast, Exits 39 through 44)
This will not be a sweeping assessment of eats around the Beltway - I am exploring one, maybe two at the most, restaurants in each aforementioned section.  But these few restaurants hopefully do show the diversity of old and new eats off the Beltway, and will encourage you to further explore for ones I left off on your own.

The Glen Burnie Section (south, Exits 1 through 8A)

As I said, I have a few posts about Beltway eats in Anne Arundel County.  I will refer you to those, with one caveat: the Afghan place across the street from the Glen Burnie MVA is now a Hip Hop Chicken (map here).  I haven't visited it yet.

The "Catonsville" section (southwest, Exits 9 through 16B)

It's kind of silly to say I've "revisited" this part of the Beltway.  This is where I grew up: Lansdowne, which was home for my first 20-odd years, and Arbutus, Catonsville and such, where I got to (and still go to) frequently.  That said, I haven't really visited the newish eating establishments here lately: the new Middle Eastern place in Arbutus (Punjab Kabab & Sweets, map here), the frozen yogurt place along Maiden Choice (And what is up with this new fro yo trend?  Seriously, I don't get it), and the new Lansdowne Station shopping center, home to a Boardwalk Fries, an Italian place (Three Brothers of Lansdowne, the only Baltimore location of sixteen across the state; map here) and, notably, a new Chinese/American/sushi buffet.  That last part - sushi buffet - should send shivers down anyone's spine.

The place in question is the Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (map here) off Exit 10, near the Office Depot.  My mother told me that she took my sister here a few months ago and thought it would be a nice place to go get a sit-down meal.  Not nice as in "dressy" nice, but nice as in "Oh, you don't see us so often, it would be nice to spend some more time with you, and your sister liked this place" (full disclosure: my youngest sister, in her 30's, has autism, and it's not easy to find places that she likes beyond a set few places, so for her to like any place with Chinese food is in itself amazing to my family).

The place isn't my idea of "inviting": despite the many tables and booths, it seems quite crowded.  The mostly dimly lit interior doesn't help on that score.  Certainly though, the people there seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly the children's birthday party in the separate (and loud) meeting room next to the dessert buffet.

The Teppanyaki Grill has a bevy of the stuff you'd expect to find at a Chinese/Japanese buffet: various fried "Chinese" things, some maki rolls on ice which seemed freshly made at least (with massive amounts of wasabi sitting next to them), a section of "American things" just in case your stubborn Uncle Floyd won't eat "Asian" stuff, and large salad and dessert bars in case you are ever-so-slightly tempted to eat something healthy.


For the price, however, this can't really be beat: all-you-can-eat for all of $7.19 plus tax ($10.39 for dinner instead of lunch; kids eat for less and very young kids eat for even less).  That said, it is a buffet, and as massive buffets go it is pretty average.  You may be thinking "Well what did you expect?" In a word: this.  I expected what I got, so I wasn't exactly disappointed.  But all the same, I don't usually enjoy this sort of thing, so I probably won't head back.  It didn't make me sick - that was a plus.

Thank God, that had me worried for a second.

The "Pikesville" section (northwest, Exits 17 through 22)

So much to choose from, so little time... And money...

Unfortunately I don't get around to Pikesville much these days.  The last time I visited was to hit up the Seven Mile Kosher Supermarket off Exit 20 (map here) for some matzah meal a year or so ago.  A few years before that, I was a panelist at the Great Tastes food show, as one of many panelists discussing food blogging in Baltimore.  I had mentioned that I was hopeful that Baltimore would see an increase in the number of West African restaurants in the area, since Charm City is fortunate to have a relatively large and increasing Nigerian-American (and overall West African) community.  Afterwards,  somebody suggested to me that I try out Peju's Kitchen and Lounge off Exit 17 in Woodlawn (map here).  I hadn't gotten the chance until recently, when I finally made the trip for take out one night.  Actually, it ended up being the very last restaurant I will have visited for this blog.  I mean, I don't exactly do these in order here.

Peju's with its large black awning occupies the large corner in the Security Plaza strip mall across from Woodlawn High School.  The plaza also features a South Asian clothing store and several halal buffets and groceries, plus a store-front Islamic center, a driving school, a handful of store-front churches and a halal Chinese restaurant (I've heard of kosher Chinese places, but a halal one is new to me, and certainly fills a niche needing to be filled).  The slightly rusty (not rustic) exterior of the whole building complex belies the gorgeous warm amber interior of Peju's, which serves not just West African specialties like jollof rice (of course), fufu and puff-puff (the West African answer to the donut.  Mmmm, donut), but various Caribbean specialties.  The warmly-lit bar and lounge area open onto the main seating area in the interior.  In other words, this ain't Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (see above).

Since I was out running errands and had to get home, I opted for take-out.  Though my eyes alighted on Caribbean specialties like jerk chicken and curry vegetable dishes ($10 each, more if during dinner), I eventually opted for the more Nigerian jollof rice with beef (also $10, also more if during dinner).  The jollof rice was certainly better than my one attempt to make it a few years ago, and I loved the thick tangy, slightly spicy tomato sauce that went with it. The two slightly tough pieces of beef I got had a nice flavor, but clearly they were a side if anything: the star of this meal was the big, heaping mound of soft, tangy jollof rice.  A few sweet fried plantain pieces finish off this meal. I will have to go back for more.

The "Towson" section (north, Exits 23A through 30B)

While I hardly get to Pikesville or Woodlawn, I often pass through Towson since I live so close by.  The problem here is that I never get a chance to stop anywhere.  The downtown Towson area has seen a few new places pop up over the last few years even as places like Towson Commons have shut down.  Yes, many old favorites like Kyodai, Kathmandu and Strappazza (just to name a few) are all still in that downtown area.  One that has been around for a while but I haven't had the chance to visit until not long ago was the Towson Hot Bagels (map here), recently voted Best Bagel in Baltimore.  Is this the influx of New Jersey and New York kids at the University making this assessment?  Seriously though, it's an efficient set up.  It has to be, since there are so many of these college kids in there!  The bagels are indeed good: chewy and filling and lovely.  I got an everything with cream cheese the one time I went there with some friends from out of town.

A few storefronts have seen some changes across the street from the library on York Road (map here: they're all close by): the Indo-Chinese place is now straight up Indian (India Cuisine), and I still haven't gotten to the Chinese place next door (The Orient Restaurant) or the 7 West Bistro Grille around the corner, all conveniently nestled not too far from Exits 26 and 27.  One place I have gotten to is the Phò Dat Thành (map here), the phò place near the Melting Pot, and one of three in the Baltimore area (with locations in Laurel and Columbia).  This once was a "pan-Asian" restaurant serving Chinese, Japanese and Thai food.  It finally settled on Vietnamese.  While they have various stir fry options available, you will probably want to go for the phò: a good, large standard bowl of phò at not a very steep price.

The "Essex" section (northeast, Exits 31A through 38B)

Sadly, I don't get around to this part of the Beltway that often anymore either.  I really should just stop between Exits 38B and 39 off North Point Blvd at the Prima Foods (map here).  This is Baltimore's premier stop for all your Greek ingredient needs, including their barrels of olives that you scoop yourself.  Closer to Route 7 and CCBC Essex lies places I have yet to get to, notably the Pizza Rustica (map here) at the intersection of crazy and crashy, er, Rossville Blvd and Pulaski Hwy near Exit 35 (seriously, why is that intersection so accident-prone?).

Ever since I last visited for the Beltway Snacking project a few years ago, I knew that Baltimore's favorite pit beef joint - and apparently the über-annoying Guy Fieri's - was in this area.  It did not dawn on me just how much closer Chaps Pit Beef (map here) is to 895 than the Beltway, so much so technically it shouldn't really be in this post.  But screw it, it's only a few miles away from Exit 35, so it's going in anyway.

For the few Bawlamorons who haven't been to this place - I admit, I was one of them until I went for this post - and for those outside the city who still aren't quite sure what "pit beef" really is, Chaps is not all big and flashing, and is even kind of easy to miss if you're not paying attention.  Plus, there isn't a large parking lot.  It is one of those places that stays small and puts out a quality product.  Okay, a lot of quality products: it's not just pit beef but various types of barbecue.  The menu is as complicated as any BBQ joint I've seen in this or other parts of the country.  But I went specifically for the pit beef sandwich, medium rare (about $6).  The meat is smoky, soft and juicy, and yes, you must bite down to get the slices of pit beef off the sandwich (but hey, that's pit beef for you).  Don't forget the many toppings along the window: horseradish, tiger sauce (horseradish mayonnaise), hots and a pickle chip belong on any pit beef sandwich.  I can't imagine eating pit beef without horseradish.  I just don't want to.

Isn't it better to imagine a nice juicy pit beef sandwich slathered with a big ol' blob of horseradish instead?

The "Dundalk" section (southeast, Exits 39 through 44)

Since family, work and friends are all in other parts of the area, I almost never get to Dundalk anymore.  And like with the Rosedale / Hamilton area it is easy to find pit beef in Dundalk.  Even easier since Merritt Blvd lost the wondrous Weenie World, one of my favorite hot dog places around the Beltway.  In its place is the Bullpen (map here), with the tagline "You can't beat our meat" (errrrrmm...).  Like Chaps and the nearby Bada Bing Bada Beef (which I did get to last time), this is also a pit beef and BBQ joint, and I will have to try it out next time I'm back down that way.

As with my much-delayed visits to Peju's and Chaps, I did finally get to the Boulevard Diner (map here).  Guy Fieri also stopped by here (my God, how many of these places has Guy Fieri infected with his presence anyway!?) for his DD&D show.  The Boulevard is your quintessential diner - nothing much different about that, except for the massive illustration of Ray Lewis (W0000000000T!!!!!) in the entryway.  Inside, it's no-nonsense but friendly and quick service.  And it has all the diner classics: the Mediterranean stuff, the burgers, the meatloaf, the desserts, and the all-day breakfasts.  I hadn't eaten lunch that day but was in the mood for pancakes - not many, but pancakes all the same.

I have my fat group, my carb group and my sugar group!

I got the short stack of two massive pancakes ($5) with two sausage patties (an extra $2).  I can't think of much else to say: they were typically tasty diner pancakes. The sausage was a little gristly but nothing I haven't enjoyed eating before.  And of course, I bathed the whole thing in butter and syrup, as you are supposed to do with diner pancakes.  Yum.


Had I decided to continue the blog - and had gas prices fallen again - I might have liked to get around the Beltway again.  I'm not sure I would've had the time, though: the one thing I remembered while doing the research for this post was how much time it took the first time around. So revisiting these various joints around 695 is just something I will have to leave to others.  Every exit has something worth eating (and probably something that is best left alone).  Search it out, folks.  I may not be writing about it, but I will certainly be searching for it nonetheless.

Places I visited

Boulevard Diner (diner) - 1660 Merritt Blvd, Dundalk, MD 21222; Phone: (410) 285-8660
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Yes, why not?
Chaps Pit Beef (pit beef & BBQ) - 5801 Pulaski Hwy, Baltimore, MD 21205; Phone: (410) 483-2379
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Yes, and I'd have to
Peju's Restaurant and Lounge (Nigerian / West African / Caribbean) - 1724 Woodlawn Drive, Wodlawn, MD 21207; Phone: (410) 277-9779
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Sure, especially since it's the only Nigerian restaurant in the area.
Phò Dat Thành (Vietnamese) - 510 York Rd, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 296-9118
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Maybe
Prima Foods (market / Greek) - 51 Kane St  Baltimore, MD 21224; Phone: (410) 633-5500
  • Would I shop there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to shop there again? Sure!
Teppanyaki Grill Supreme Buffet (buffet / Chinese / Japanese / American) - 3551 Washington Blvd, Lansdowne, MD 21227; Phone: (410) 242-5887
  • Would I eat there again? Probably not
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Um, no
Towson Hot Bagels (bagels / breakfast) - 16 Allegheny Ave, Towson, MD, 21204, with locations in Timonium and Canton
  • Would I eat there again? Yes
  • Would I go out of my way to eat there again? Hmmm...
Places to visit later (though I must leave others to write about them)

The Bullpen (pit beef & BBQ) - 1099 Merritt Blvd, Dundalk, MD 21222; Phone: (410) 288-3529

Hip Hop Fish & Chicken (fried chicken / fast food) - 6604 Ritchie Hwy, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, with various other locations in the area; Phone: (410) 766-1515

India Cuisine (Indian) - 321 York Rd, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 583-7770

The Orient Restaurant (Chinese / Japanese) - 319 York Road, Towson, MD 21204, with locations in Bel Air and Perry Hall; Phone: (410) 296-9000

Pizza Rustica (pizza / Italian) - 8805 Pulaski Highway, Rosedale, MD 21237; Phone: (410) 682-8640

Punjab Kabab & Sweets (Pakistani / Indian) - 5313 East Dr, Arbutus, MD 21227; Phone: (410) 737-7773

Seven Mile Supermarket (kosher / Jewish) - 201 Reisterstown Rd,  Pikesville, MD 21208; Phone: (410) 653-2000

7 West Bistro Grille (American / bar) - 7 W Chesapeake Ave, Towson, MD 21204; Phone: (410) 337-9378

Three Brothers of Lansdowne (pizza / Italian) - 3611 Washington Blvd, Lansdowne, MD 21227, with sixteen locations statewide; Phone: (410) 536-1080