Recently, you may have seen my mini series on Philadelphia food from my weekend trip there. I am now on a 10 day trip home to Western PA, including a fair amount of plans in Pittsburgh. I will be posting a longer series about my culinary experience in Pittsburgh/Western PA, as I expect to have a week of delicious food.
My vacation is starting out with a weekend in Pittsburgh with eight of my friends from DC. I was already going to be here, but my friends wanted to take a trip over the long weekend. Conveniently, they planned to go to Pittsburgh so I got to spend the beginning of my vacation with my friends.
Chris, Andrew, and I drove from Silver Spring, MD to Pittsburgh in my car (and yes, we did all survive somehow). We were shockingly the first to arrive in the city, which means we got to pick the first gathering location.
Pittsburgh has an excellent food scene. I may be biased because I grew up around here, but Pittsburgh’s food will always be highly valued in my mind. I think it is because we really know how to eat here. Whether it is because there are so many Italians and Polish here or because we all just really love carbs, you can expect endless hearty food when you come to Pittsburgh. You certainly will see that in the food I post over the next week or so.
A fine example of this trend would be the “Almost Famous” Primanti Bros. This restaurant has been the pride of Pittsburgh since 1933. There are now 44 locations, primarily in the PA but a few going as far as Florida. It is one of the most successful (and possibly most well-known restaurant chain in Pittsburgh).
If you are unfamiliar with the menu, the concept is simple: a sandwich with fresh made Italian bread topped with meat and cheese or your choice, piled high with french fries, and cole slaw, then finnished with the other half of the bread. If you didn’t believe me when I said we love our hearty food, then you probably do now. This sandwich is a Pittsburgh specialty.
In fact, Pittsburgh is known for putting french fries in food items where people would typically think they don’t belong, such as salads. If you ever see a “Pittsburgh steak salad” on a menu anywhere (even outside of Western PA) expect there to be fries on it. I would also say you should expect fries to be on your salad if you order a steak, chicken, lamb salad, etc. in Pittsburgh or in most of Western PA. If you truly want to be healthy and just have a salad, you will have to ask for the fries to be left out.
Eating at Primanti Bros. is one of the most iconic things to do in Pittsburgh. Naturally, this was the first thing we did for our weekend together, especially since Chris had never been to Pittsburgh before. We went to the Primanti Bros. in Oakland, which is not the original location but was where we had planned to spend our afternoon.
I will admit that I was never that thrilled about or impressive with Primantis. I was never quite sure why my relatives who have moved away from the area always want to get Primantis when they are home. I have learned this weekend that the reason why I felt that way was because I had only ever had Primantis from the Grove City location. My aunt told me that location is not very good, and I consider her to be a Primantis expert. That makes sense because when I had Primantis at that location, I was so confused on what the big deal was with these sandwiches.
With that said, my experience at the Oakland location was much different. The atmosphere was chill and welcoming. We arrived at 11:30, so fortunately we missed the major rush. Even though it wasn’t noon yet, we ordered ourselves some large beers because we were on college campus on a Saturday morning and because these sandwiches called for a good cold beer.
I ordered the capicola and cheese sandwhich. Capicola is a spicy Italian ham, and it is delicious. It gave this starch heavy sandwich more flavor. Andrew ordered pastrami and cheese, and Chris ordered kielbasa and cheese. Both of these were good, but I liked mine the best.
As you can see from the picture below, these sandwiches are about 80 percent french fries. All of the components together were delicious. The meat and fries were hot and made me feel all warm inside. The cole slaw added a nice texture. I am not a huge fan of cole slaw, but it has been growing on me more. The best part of this sandwich is definitely the bread. It is fresh made Italian bread, cut thick to hold all of these sandwich components. It is soft and just what I expect from fresh Italian bread.
This dining experience redeemed Primanti Bros for me. I am glad to have tried a great tasting Primantis experience. I am also happy we got to introduce Chris to the classic Pittsburgh sandwich. After lunch, we walked around Oakland but got caught in a surprise downpour. Fortunately, we were close to the Cathedral of Learning and jumped in to dry off and explore the international classrooms.