There are Primanti Brothers all over the place in Pittsburgh and as far away now as Florida, but the original, in the Strip District, remains a worthy destination. It is open ‘round the clock, attracting — in addition to culinary tourists — a wide-ranging clientele of truckers, shippers, sports fans, and club-denizens with no place else to go when the bars close in the wee hours. Don’t come at night if you are looking for peace and quiet, for this can be a hugely boisterous joint, throbbing through dawn with people drinking Iron City beer and chowing down on some of the most amazing sandwiches ever constructed.
Primanti Brothers’ Dagwoods were originally designed for truckers who hauled produce to the nearby wholesale market. While their trucks were being unloaded, they dashed in to the restaurant with a big appetite but little time to fuss over a sandwich, an order of cole slaw, and fried potatoes all nicely and separately arranged on a plate. The solution was to load hot French fries directly into the sandwich atop the customer’s meat of choice, then top the fries with Pittsburgh-style (no mayo) cole slaw and a few slices of tomato: an all-in-one meal between two pieces of bread. The sandwiches are assembled at the grill behind the bar at the speed of light, so when the sandwich is delivered, the fries and grilled meats are still steaming hot, the slaw and tomato cool. It is common to see customers who are, shall we say, a wee bit tipsy (at 4am) sink their teeth deep into one of these big babies and pull away with the shock of the meat’s heat on their tongue.
Bizarre as the pile-up of courses sounds, Primanti Brothers fans insist that such favored combinations as double-egg and pastrami (both sizzled on the grill) or steak and cheese simply do not taste right if not capped with a layer of crisp-fried potatoes and another of slaw. The double-fistful meal is presented at the counter and at tables wrapped in butcher paper that serves as a plate and also as a drop-cloth to pick up the spillage.