04 March 2011

Lost City: Pittsburgh Edition: Primanti Bros.

Primanti Bros., a singular sandwich joint, is a now a local Pittsburgh chain. But the original still stands on 18th Street in the Strip District, an industrial neighborhood where businesses once went to buy their produce and other goods.

It was founded in 1933 by Joe Primanti and his several brothers. There clientele were the truckers that serviced the Strip District. In the early days, the interior was a bar only; sandwiches were served outside on the sidewalk. The patrons were very busy and had little time for lunch. The story goes that one day a trucker, in a hurry, suggested that the Primantis speed things up by just dumping his french fries and cole slaw on top of the sandwich he ordered. Thus was born Primanti Bros.' signature item, an, over-the-top, all-in-one sandwich.

You can order any kind of sandwich here—corned beef, sausage, cheese, cheese steak, pastrami, fish, "double meat"—but they all come in that same format. It makes for a ridiculous, but memorable and tasty meal. And the prices are very reasonable.

Most folks agree that, for whatever reason, the sandwiches taste better at the original location than they do at the other locations. Even the staff will tell you this. No one can explain it. Either way, the original store has more character. There's a standard diner set-up, stools as well as tables. The walls are decorated with a mural of every famous person that ever came out of Pittsburgh, from Franco Harris and August Wilson. Sports figures dominate.

The waitresses are vets and are New York-sassy. When my uncle complained that they used to carry Miller Genuine Draft, the server answered, "We used to have a lot of things."

Jim Patrinos bought the place from the Primanti family in 1974, but kept the name. He's the one who began the expansion. There are also three restaurants in Florida. Unsurprisingly, this unique place has been covered by most of the yahoos over on the Food Network.

No comments: