Friday, April 30, 2010

My Yearly Visit To Primanti Brothers

So what does one do when he finds himself closing out the Dave and Buster's location at 1:00 AM in the Waterfront district of Pittsburgh and craving a late night snack on a Saturday night? A better question might even be, where does one go at 2:00 AM to find the most colorful nighttime characters that Pittsburgh has to offer? The answer is quite simple, Primanti Brothers ... but not just any Primanti Brothers. The Primanti Brothers location of choice is the original storefront down in The Strip district just off of downtown. If this entry seems vaguely familiar to my longtime readers, that's because I was here over a year ago to sample this unique and tasty sandwich. If you take a moment to look at my pictures from last year, you'll realize how bad they were because I only had my cellphone with me which lacks a flash. This time around, however, I was smart enough to bring a camera with a flash.

The original Primanti Brothers location was at 46 18th Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222 and can be reached at 412-263-2142. As they did last year, they still have a website here. While there are now many satellite locations around Pittsburgh to experience this sandwich, the original location seems to have the best vibe and energy to it.

Here was the same tell-tale sign on the side of the building that I saw the last time I stopped in for a sandwich:

This time around, however, I managed to get two shots of the wall menu from which you order:

In case you've never had the opportunity to order a Primanti Brothers sandwich before, here are a few tips for you. At The Strip location, you walk in to the grill side of the restaurant first. On this side you can order a sandwich and a drink, but no sides. This was different from the last visit where we also ordered a side of French fries. This time my friend Ryan had to walk around to the bar side of the restaurant to actually order fries. The second tip is that all the sandwiches come with fries and cole slaw in the actual sandwich. I imagine they might leave one or the other off the sandwich, but I wouldn't tell them to put them on the side. The third tip is that you can actually seat yourself in the bar area without ordering anything from the grill side and the bartender will actually take your order (including a side of fries) and bring it to you when it is ready.

Of course, if you decide to order your food from the bar side, you'll miss out on the grill action:

Last time I went with a corned beef and provolone sandwich, so this time I decided on a pastrami and provolone with an optional fried egg. It was kind of fun to watch the line cook throw down the egg and meat on the grill, add the provolone cheese after the meat had been flipped, place the meat and cheese on top of the fried egg and then finally the entire contents scooped up and placed on the slices of Italian bread before being adorned with the infamous French fries, cole slaw, and fresh tomato. I paid for my sandwich and iced tea before moving over to the bar side to enjoy my spoils.

Here was a shot of my iced tea:

I am mentioning the iced tea not because of its flavor, but because of its sweetness. I like my iced tea barely sweetened or unsweetened and this is what I thought I would be receiving. I took one sip and about choked because it was so sweet. I asked my friend Ryan (who lives in Pittsburgh) if iced tea was normally served sweet unless requested otherwise and he indicated that tea was usually served unsweetened. I know that in certain parts of the country, sweet is always assumed; this sugar ladened liquid definitely caught me by surprise. Unfortunately, I was on the inside of the booth and the bar was quite crowded, so I just decided to live with it rather than try and make my way back to the ordering counter to fix it.

Legend has it that the reason for the French fries and cole slaw being placed between the two slices of bread was so that busy truckers could eat the sandwiches on the go. Anyone who has ever actually tried to EAT a Primanti Brothers sandwich knows that either the sandwich has evolved since they opened in 1933 or there is a bit of historical storytelling going on. Here was a shot of my pastrami, cheese, and fried egg sandwich tonight:

Even employing the "squeeze and shove" method to eat the sandwich, I still had a hard time getting my mouth around each bite without a cascading avalanche of fries and coleslaw falling back down to the waiting parchment paper below. Here was a side shot of my sandwich:

And how was the sandwich? I suppose at 2 AM after a night of drinking and partying, pretty much anything would've tasted good. Fortunately I had sobered up fairly decently on the trip over from Dave and Busters, so my memory and taste buds were firing on all their pistons. This was really, really good. I had thought the egg would be cooked so that the yolk was still runny (and maybe you can order it that way, I didn't ask). The version that I received was cooked through, however I could actually still taste the egg in each bite of the sandwich. The pastrami was warm and savory and while good, didn't seem all that different from the corned beef I had eaten a year prior. The fries were actually a little better for me this time around than last time, but the star of the sandwich was still the coleslaw. A vinegar-based slaw, it was both tart and sweet and really made the flavors of the sandwich sing in my mouth. My other friend Rick also agreed that it was the slaw that made the sandwich really work.

Along with our sandwiches, Ryan ordered a side of French fries for the three of us to split. Here was a shot of the fries:

The fries were better than I remember from my last visit. They were fresh cut fries and while not my favorite version of this fried carb, these weren't too bad. They were hot, not greasy and seasoned properly. For those who like fresh cut fries, these might be the epitome of a excellent French fry.

Having finished nearly all of my sandwich and one third of the fries, I finally had to stop. I seriously wanted to finish my sandwich, but I knew too much of a good thing would make the ensuing indigestion an unwelcome visitor. There were no trash cans, so customers simply left cups, napkins, and other trash on the table and the bartender came around occasionally and cleared away the trash. I should mention that in addition to getting a great sandwich at 2 AM in Pittsburgh, a visit to The Strip location at this time of night will give you a great opportunity to do a little people watching, too. It really was a diverse crowd tonight.

Once again, Primanti Brothers delivered a great sandwich. While the version served at Panini's in the Northeast Ohio area is close, there just isn't any substitute for the real deal. The next time you are in Pittsburgh, I highly suggest you hit up one of their myriad of locations for this classic Pittsburgh treat.


Nancy Heller said...

Tom - the version of the legend that I've always heard is that the fries/slaw on the sandwich started with factory workers, who would pick up a sandwich before starting their shift, leave the sandwich on a radiator to keep warm while working, and then consume it at meal break.

Glad you enjoyed; we stopped there in July 2009 after our big catering event and had a great meal.

Tino said...

@Nancy Heller: I suppose the origin of the legend probably depends on whom you ask. I distinctly remember it being truckers because the person commented on The Strip being a prime location for shipping companies. I'm willing to accept both theories until proven otherwise.

In the end, whether it was factory workers or truckers (or both), the important thing is that the sandwich is still delicious.

BONNIE K said...

I saw this on the food channel and I was drooling over it then and now I'm drooling over it all over again.

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