Only in Pittsburgh: the Primanti Brothers Sandwich

Posted by Adam Gretz

The Pittsburgh Pirates are all but guaranteed to extend their impressive streak of losing seasons to 19 in 2011, but fear not! What PNC Park lacks in quality baseball from the local nine it more than makes up for it with local flavor at the concession stands. Take, for example, the Primanti Brothers sandwich, an unholy combination of meat, provolone cheese, coleslaw, french fries and tomatoes all piled between two thick slices of Italian bread. It’s pure evil, and at the same time, completely awesome. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Originally started during the 1930′s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District neighborhood, the sandwiches were sold primarily to truck drivers delivering goods to the local markets so they could get an entire meal to eat on the go. From there, it’s grown into a Pittsburgh staple that is consumed at baseball games, football games and at 2:30 in the morning after a night out at the bar. They have locations at each of Pittsburgh’s sports venues (PNC Park, Heinz Field and the Consol Energy Center) as well as a number of suburban locations throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.

If you’re going to dig in at the stadium you’re going to encounter a much smaller menu than the suburban locations or the original (located in the Strip District and open 24 hours), but the sandwich is still pretty much the same: huge and absolutely delicious. At the stadiums your choices are going to be either the Cheese Steak or the Capicola and Cheese, but if you venture to one of the other locations you’ll encounter everything from the Colossal Fish, to Cajun Chicken, to the Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese. Last week I made a dinner stop and picked up my personal favorite, the Sweet Sausage and Cheese (pictured).

The coleslaw and french fries are the dominant ingredients when it comes to quantity, making up most of the sandwich. The slaw is a sweet and sour variety and is unlike any other that I’ve tasted (and that’s not a bad thing), while the fries are thick and fresh cut. The sausage has a nice sweet flavor (they also offer hot sausage) but, in all honesty, is probably the ingredient that is the least represented.

Even so, bring an appetite when you’re attempting to tackle this meal, and don’t be afraid of making a mess, because it’s inevitable.

Pittsburgh’s love affair with the Primanti’s Sandwich isn’t quite as unanimous as you may have been led to believe during it’s many appearances on the Food Network. It’s certainly popular, and there’s a reason it’s been around for as long as it’s been and become as famous as it is. But I know more than a few people that just can’t get into it, and have watched some out-of-town visitors eat one and simply say, “It was good, but I don’t get it.” You may be one of the ones that doesn’t “get it,” but it’s still worth giving a try during a visit to Pittsburgh for a ball game.

And if you’re going to wash it down with some local brew, you’ll probably have Iron City pushed at you, but I’d recommend going with a Penn Pilsner, a German-style beer with a nice copper color and a malt flavor. It’s still a local product and is superior to Iron City in every way possible.

It’s not something you’ll be able to eat every day, but along with a beer it’s certainly a nice complement to a night of baseball.