I heard about Chap’s on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” via The Mouth from the South- a true connoisseur of barbecue. He couldn’t make it, so I have to describe the culinary experience for him vicariously. Chap’s is a great little find, and definitely worth stopping by if a road trip takes you through Baltimore.
Up north we don’t get BBQ joints of this caliber, except in rare circumstances. Even the normally reliable Munchmobile of the Star-Ledger pointed me to Smitty’s in Lyndhurst- and they do have decent barbecue for up here, but nothing to write home about. About the same as Jim Dandy’s in Nutley. Falls off the bone, but has that spongy quality that tells you it’s been injected with sauce to get it tender. It’s much better to head to Montclair’s Indigo Smoke, which may be a bit pricey for ‘cue, but serves up the real deal. If you cross the Hudson, MoGridder’s in the Bronx, and Brother Jimmy’s in 5 locations now, are all good bets.
But in Baltimore I’d say try Chap’s. Baltimore has their own barbecue creature called Pit Beef. I first heard of it in John Waters’ movie Pecker, and was finally reminded when I watched Guy’s show. If you ride past the Fell’s Point area down Orleans, past the typical Balitmore row houses with their white stone 3-step stoops, a few more blocks down Pulaski you’ll find this unassuming box next to a gentleman’s club. You’ll follow the smoky scent of charred meat past around the parking lot, and inside you’ll find a real picnic table, a few gambling machines, and huge pumps of BBQ sauce and ketchup. The wooden walls painted red and purple, looking like they’ve absorbed countless amounts of grill fumes. A sign above reads, “The only difference between this place and the Titanic… was they had a band.” So yeah, a real dive.
Boss Man had the ribs, which he said had too much sauce. I opted for a pit beef sandwich with hot sausage on a kaiser roll, having seen the show and lusted after one ever since. They also have a “Guy Special” now with corned beef, pit beef and turkey. We got mac ‘n cheese and rice pudding as well. The sandwich was excellent, and really, if you come here you have to have the pit beef and sausage. They are outstanding.
The beef is juicy (I had mine medium rare) and flavorful, never stringy or chewy. The sausage is spicy and has good smoky flavor, and they slice it into three slabs so your sandwich doesn’t fall apart. The poppy seed kaiser roll is strong enough to hold it all together and not get mushy, even if you slather it with their BBQ sauce. Don’t use too much sauce, the meat is tasty enough. The mac ‘n cheese was dry and tasteless, but the rice pudding was thick, creamy and not too sweet. Just enough cinnamon, and the small size was pretty filling.
On a Monday afternoon there was little crowd, but like a good truck stop, you could tell this was a hidden gem. It reminded me of Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta, home of the ghetto burger. That place deserves a “blast from the past” blog post, and will get one soon. This is a must-visit in Baltimore. A combo sandwich on a kaiser will make a big lunch or a good sized dinner, and you can walk it off at Fort McHenry National Park, just a few miles away, if you want the exercise.