Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Buckeye Goes to Steeler Country

Primanti Brothers
Strip District
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
October 10, 2009

This past weekend we attended a beautiful wedding at the Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh. It was truly an elegant affair and it was great catching up with family and friends. We had a great time, but while all of this was going on, we were also itching to explore some of the city. For me food is the heart of all travel, so we attempted to take a whirlwind bite out of Pittsburgh! Since we only had a few open hours we focused our attention on Pittsburgh's famous Strip District.

While doing some pre-travel internet searching I came across the famous Primanti Brothers sandwiches. I think I first had heard of this place on the Travel Channel show, Man V Food. Seeing the segment about them on TV made me laugh, because the sandwiches reminded me so much of the famous overstuffed sandwiches from Panini's that my friends and I would share after a fun night of dancing (and of course I only mean dancing :) ) during our college days. This, of course, was when Panini's was still located on South campus. It has since moved more north on High Street to the location of a past bank and past Counterfeit Heist restaurant. But I digress, I LOVED these sandwiches in college and nothing tasted better at 1 or 2 in the morning. Well actually, maybe TJ's, Cluck-U-Chicken, or Catfish Biffs were more often top choices; but Panini's was definitely in my top 5!

I also thought Panini sandwiches were so unique. However, this TV special showed me that they're not so unique after all. It turns out that Primanti Brothers have been over stuffing their sandwiches with fries and coleslaw since around the time of the Great Depression. The Primanti Brothers opened their restaurant to feed the workers in the produce and warehouse strip of Pittsburgh late at night or in the early morning. Because of their jobs they needed something filling, fast, and easy to eat. There's not as much warehouse and produce work going on in the strip as there once was, but Primanti Brothers has kept their late hours and now also have an after clubbing following. They also have a lunch following, after work following, food to eat during the games following, have to eat here if you're only going to be in Pittsburgh for a few hours before a wedding following etc. etc. This just makes me wonder if the founders of Panini's were from around the Pittsburgh area and trying to bring a bit of their memories to Ohio? Or did they just try the sandwich while on a trip and figured this was something Ohio just had to have? My research on this, thus far, has turned up nada. If anybody out there has the answer, please enlighten me!

Primanti Brothers is such a Pittsburgh institution that is has expanded to include 15 Pittsburgh area restaurants, including Heinz Field and the airport, and 2 locations in Florida! However, I feel like you generally get the best understanding about what a restaurant is all about from the origininal, so that's immediately where we went upon arrival in Pittsburgh. The wedding didn't start until 7:00 pm so when we arrived in Pittsburgh around 4, we figured we could fit in a "snack", especially since we'd be eating dinner much later.

I had heard mixed reviews about The Strip. Some complain that it's just a street filled with cheesy Steeler paraphernalia, while others rave about the classic Pittsburgh institutions. With such mixed reviews, I didn't know exactly what to expect. We quickly found parking behind an old warehouse and I admit that the area looked a bit sketchy from the get go. I also quickly understood where the complaints about the tons of Steeler gear came from since the Steeler vendors line the street with quality products such as yellow and black Mardi Gras beads and slippers. But then again, I also feel those nay-sayers didn't take the time to look past a little grit and appreciate the true spirit of the place. But more on that later. Sunday afternoon Erik and I spent the afternoon exploring The Strip and I'll write about that in my next post.

For now I'll get back to Primanti Brothers.

First off the restaurant is just off the main strip. You look down a side street and this sign welcomes you from the side of the building. You get a little closer and you see beautiful old wood doors just welcoming you to grab a bite to eat!

You immediately know it's going to be good when you see people pushing to get in and a police officer managing the door.

We lucked out with a great seat at the counter. However, the cook was super busy and it took about 20 minutes to get our order in. This is no complaint though! The servers and cook NEVER stopped moving. They just were that busy.

Since this was supposed to be just a "snack" before a wedding we opted to share the Pitts-burgher Cheese Steak, which they call their number 2 bestseller. (Their number 1 bestseller is the beer!) I ate my half with a refreshing Coke, but Erik couldn't pass up an opportunity to have a Yuengling, which is another Pennsylvania tradition. Unfortunately, Yuengling is not sold in Ohio. How happy we would be if it were! But instead, it gives us something to forward to when we travel.

Once our order was in drinks came fast and the sandwich was ready in just about 5 minutes. I will say this sandwich is a thing of beauty. The layers of flavor, the sides dishes placed on the sandwich; simply genius
The breakdown is a sirloin beef patty, provolone cheese, french fries similar to fair fries, a vinegary sweet and sour coleslaw, and tomato slices. This is all sandwiched between white Italian bread and served in classic wax paper. Yum! The acidic bite of the coleslaw and tomato nicely balances the fat and juiciness from the rest of the sandwich. And the thick Italian bread does a nice job of holding everything together and soaking up the excess.

And to top it all off our server liked the fact we ran in just to have a sandwich before the wedding so much, he gave us one more to take to another lucky guest! Apparently someone ordered a sandwich, but didn't have cash to pay for it (the restaurant is cash only). Lucky for us, but we did feel baldly about the person missing out on his/her sandwich.

Erik and I were extremely happy with our sandwich and would have loved to sample some more items. We left really wishing we had tried the corn beef or at least one of their other "shaved meat" sandwiches. We were interested in how that type of texture would work with the rest of the sandwich. I have to say the patty on the Cheese Steak was good, but it wasn't amazing. I'm thinking the corn beef or ham could be amazing. I guess there's always next time!

Bill total: $12 (1 Cheese Steak, 1 Yuengling, 1 Coke, tip)

Overall Rating: 4 buckeyes

I really wrestled with this one, but I think it comes down to personal taste and the fact that this is my blog! I know I gave Skyline 5 buckeyes and Primanti Brothers has an equal fan following. But it isn't my history, and I don't crave it. I'd drive out of my way many miles to get a Skyline fix, but I wouldn't make a trip to Pittsburgh just for this sandwich. I'll let the Pittsburg restaurant bloggers give this one a 5 and critique Skyline ;)

Primanti Brothers (Strip District) on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Man V Food is on the Travel channel.

Annabelle said...

You're right, it is on the Travel Channel. I had actually meant to fix that during editing, but obviously forgot.

Erin said...

I've always wanted to visit that place; such a cool tradition!

I LOOOOOVE Yuengling and am also sad that we can only get it when we travel.

Anonymous said...

What was your strategy for eating this? It looks tasty, but it also looks difficult to consume.

Wes used to smuggle Yuengling back from PA when he had to work there:)

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that the Panini place copied Primanti Bros. Primanti's has been open and serving the exact sandwich for 75 years except for two years the building was closed due to renovations when the current owner purchased the business from the original owners.

Annabelle said...

Anonymous, I don't doubt that the sandwich was copied, I just want to know why. Do you know if the owners of Panini's are from Pittsburg or if they just thought the sandwich was a good business decision?

Anonymous said...

its pittsburgh..not pittsburg...lets get serious.