For the last few years, Pittsburgh has been reinventing itself as a craft cocktail and farm-to-table sort of town. Innovative and new restaurants and bars are popping up everywhere — so many that it’s hard to keep up.
This post is not about any of those places.
No, this post is about a staple of the Old Pittsburgh food scene — an eatery you’ve surely seen if you’ve ever watched national coverage of a Pittsburgh Steelers game, because it always gets mentioned by one of the broadcasters. The establishment we’re discussing now is Primanti Bros.
If you’ve never heard of Primanti’s, it’s a small restaurant chain that was established during the Great Depression, in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. Primanti’s, basically, is a sandwich place, but one where the sandwiches themselves contain your entire meal: whatever protein you choose, provolone cheese, tomato slices, vinegary cole slaw, and a heap of French fries, all served on thick-cut Italian bread.
Millions of Primanti’s sandwiches are eaten each year, so we decided to attempt to answer a simple question: could we eat three meals at various Primanti Bros. locations in a single day?
One charming thing that we’ve seen at every location we’ve visited is the giant menu. This menu shows the essential items that you can find at any Primanti’s — their sandwiches — plus a handful of additional menu items. You haven’t had the true Primanti’s experience until you’ve looked at one of those giant menus and picked an item from it.
Of course…that’s not how we started. We ended up relegated to the outdoor seating, because we managed to attempt our three-meal effort on the day of a big college football rivalry game, so the whole place was overrun by folks draped in Pitt and Penn State gear.
Fortunately, our meal arrived quickly, and piping hot. We decided to try an order of tater tots with “retro” sauce — I’m not sure what makes it retro, but what I do know is that it was sort of like a chipotle ranch, and it was very tasty. The tots themselves had a great crunch.
…and I got myself a bacon & cheese with an egg top. One great thing about Primanti’s sandwiches is that they’re big, dense, and filling without being overwhelmingly heavy; I think it comes down to their choice of a vinegar-based slaw instead of a mayo-based one.
A number of years ago, we took a tour of all the Primanti’s locations that were open in Western Pennsylvania at the time. We discovered then that there were two types of Primanti’s — “city” locations that offered the basics, and “suburban” locations that had much larger menus. This Garfield location, which opened years after our survey, is sort of a hybrid: a city location with all the suburban menu items.
In addition to beer, this Primanti’s offered a handful of boilermakers, so I ordered the “Basic Irish Girl,” which is a Guinness paired with a shot of vanilla vodka. (And you know what? I don’t care what you think; it was a delightful marriage of vanilla and chocolatey flavor.)
In the end, though, we both managed to finish our meals and limp back to the car, stuffed to the gills with bellies full of Old Pittsburgh. So to answer the initial question: can you eat three meals at Primanti Bros.? Yes, you can!
Should you? Well, that’s a question each of us must answer for ourselves.