Friday January 13, 2012
At LocalEats, it's part of our mission to highlight great locally owned restaurants that are off the beaten (eaten?) path: places that are beloved by locals in-the-know but often overlooked by tourists and major dining publications. But, we're not entirely about obscurity here. We don't aim to be the know-it-all hipsters who suggest every restaurant with a heavy dose of "you've probably never heard of it before" attitude. Sometimes the best way to orient yourself with a new city is to visit the most iconic restaurant or try the most obvious indigenous foodstuff. Of course, there can be potential issues with such establishments. The line might be prohibitively long. Said line may suspiciously consist of ONLY tourists. Or the quality of the restaurant can decline after decades of popularity (or perhaps a bunch of new franchises) give them no incentive to maintain standards. In this series, I'll share a few tasty experiences I've had when going with the most obvious restaurant or food in various cities. First stop: Pittsburgh.
If there's one restaurant that encapsulates the spirit of the Steel City, it's Primanti Bros. Dating back to the 30's, Primanti Bros. got its start when Joe Primanti opened a small restaurant after previously having had successs selling sandwiches to truckers from a cart in the Strip District (food carts and street eats: not just a modern foodie phenomenon). Not long after opening, Primanti Bros stumbled upon the delicious gimmick which makes a Primanti sandwich a Primanti sandwich: fries and coleslaw on the sandwich. For truck drivers and steel workers often on-the-go, having everything on the sandwich made eating much more convenient - increased portability and one-handed eating being preferable. Though it boasts some 14 locations in the Pittsburgh area now, the original Strip District shop still stands, and quality has not suffered a bit.
On one snowy March day, I popped in to the original Primanti Bros. for a not-so-light lunch. The straightforward sandwich menu likely hasn't changed much since the depression with popular offerings such as ham and cheese, double egg and cheese, Jumbo (bologna) and cheese, and the Pitts-Burgher cheese steak. I opted for the ham and cheese and added an egg on top for good measure (for 50 cents). Ham, cheese, egg, coleslaw, French fries and tomato were piled high between two thick slices of white Italian bread. Measuring in at a height of about six inches, this monstrous meal did not disappoint. With an Iron City Beer in hand, I felt ready to take in more of the Steel City, having experienced a truly timeless meal at its most famous establishment. Oh, and just in case a Primanti Bros. sandwich isn't enough food, it's worth noting that you can also order a side of fries, cheese fries or chili cheese fries. As a former Pittsburgh resident once told me, "If there's an empty nook or cranny anywhere in the city, Pittsburgh will find a way to stuff some fries into it."
Not sure how those truck drivers ate these with one hand.