Even the shortest visit to the Steel City will teach you that Pittsburgh pride runs deep—starting with the Steelers, and ending with the sandwich. The Primanti Bros. sandwich, that is.
I had hardly touched down at the Pittsburgh International Airport before being whisked from baggage claim straight to Primanti’s for my first taste of the ‘Burgh. Their flagship location in the Strip District, where a colorful mural of notable Pittsburghers hangs along one wall, is something of a city landmark. Originally a wooden lunch stand serving huge, hearty sandwiches to Depression-era truckers pulling up to the loading docks across the street, Joe Primanti’s operation has spawned fourteen satellites throughout the city—though the first (and best) is the only one that boasts 24-hour artery-clogging capacity.
This is not a lunch for the faint of heart (or meek of stomach). Sandwiches were always intended to be meals-in-hand. So Primanti’s takes this ambition to the logical extreme—they toss the fries and slaw right inside. This is no lazy, horizontal hoagie. It’s all stacked up high, in a towering marvel of sandwich construction that reached, in my case, almost six inches.
The Sandwich Anatomy
Every Primanti’s sandwich begins with an inch-plus foundation of soft Italian bread. Moving from the ground up, it’s piled with your meat and cheese (or eggs, or sardines) of choice, layered with hot fries, slapped with slaw, topped with tomato, and crowned with the second slice that somehow balances on top. It’s all wrapped in waxed paper (even if you’re eating in), and voila, lunch is served.
I ordered the pastrami and cheese, while my boyfriend (the Pittsburgh native) opted for the cheesesteak, dubbed their “No. 2 Seller.” (When I asked why they didn’t list the number one seller, I was educated that the cheesesteak remains, in fact, the most popular sandwich. Local humor can be elusive.)
Visually, the sandwiches are almost indistinguishable—your only option is the meat. My pastrami, however, was clearly the superior lunch. (Call it beginner’s luck—or a sixth sense for sandwiches.) Pink and juicy, lovingly warmed, with melted Provolone oozing out the sides and gluing the meat to the fries, it made the sandwich. The fries soaked up the juices, the slaw added a bit of tang, and the fresh bread held it all together.
Our other sandwich wasn’t half-bad, though it resembled a burger more than a cheesesteak, and the slab of admittedly tasty beef couldn’t compare to the deli-perfect pastrami.
Primanti’s is a can’t-miss, if only to prove your mettle by fighting your way through the two-hands-needed monster. Bypass the "No. 2 Seller" title and get the pastrami. (It even alliterates: Primanti, pastrami. A match made in heaven.) The only two things you need on the table: your trusty bottle of Heinz 57 (another Pittsburgh product) and a cold Iron City lager.
Bon appetit—and go Steelers.
(Original location) 46 18th Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222 (map) 412-263-2142