And now, a food review in two acts:
Act I: 5PM
Mere hours after arriving in Pittsburgh, Andy and I ventured down to Pittsburgh's strip district, home of the original Primanti Brothers. For those of you who have never watched the Food Network or Travel Channel, Primanti's started as a sandwich cart that fed Pittsburgh factory workers hundreds of thousands of years ago; it is now a regional chain with more than a few stores in the Pittsburgh area. Of course, we had to go to the original. Primanti's is famous for stuffing their sandwiches with handfuls of both fries and coleslaw. Andy and I had a plan: we would each order a different sandwich and then split them, so we would get to try as many as possible.
Andy went with the capicola (basically a spiced ham) and egg, which is touted as the local, Pittsburgh-type thing to eat. I ordered the steak and cheese, which is touted on the menu board as being the #2 best seller. The big joke, which I find absolutely hilarious, is that there is no #1 best seller. Just side-splitting stuff. Only the best at Primanti's.
We sat at the bar and watched intently as they cooked up our sandwiches on the grill. After hearing rave reviews about Primanti Bros. from nearly everyone that had tried it before, we were excited. Unfortunately, the bar may have been set too high. The sandwiches were good, but they were not the culinary orgy of flavors we had been led to believe we would encounter.
The steak and cheese was solid, but both Andy and I were thrown off by the fact that the steak was not the standard chopped up or sliced cheesesteak cut. Instead, it was basically a beef patty. Still tasty, but I'd take a Pat's cheesesteak over this any day.
The capicola and egg was also good, but much like the steak and cheese, nothing special. It's easy to see why capicola and egg is described as a "Pittsburgh favorite." The spiced ham was a flavor that neither of us was used to, and we couldn't tell whether it was good or bad. I still don't think I've made up my mind, actually. But any time there's a local food with a somewhat funny taste, you can make it popular by describing it as a regional specialty. I really don't know if anyone in Pittsburgh would eat capicola if it didn't give them some sort of civic pride; I probably won't again.
Official verdict for Primanti Brothers, 5PM: Check it out if you're driving by. If you're hungry and and see a Primanti's, stopping in for a huge stuffed sandwich will satisfy your hunger. But don't expect anything amazing.
ACT II: 2 AM
After the Pirates game, Andy and I hit the bars near the ballpark. After making some new friends (who, not surprisingly, could not be convinced that Sidney Crosby is a bitch, as hard as I tried to prove the point), we decided to venture back to Primanti Bros. for a true late-nite sandwich experience.
We decided to start walking and flag down the first cab we saw. Thirty minutes and zero cabs later, we were getting closer to Primanti's. Then things went downhill real quickly.
NOTE: If you want to go to the original Primanti's location in the strip district at 2AM, do NOT walk. I repeat, do NOT walk. Take a cab. Wait an hour for one if you have to. But for the love of God do not walk. A sandwich is not worth a stab wound. Well, most aren't.
Clutching our Pirates minibats tightly for protection, we cautiously made our way through some not-so-nice real estate before thankfully arriving at the restaurant. We made our way to the same seats at the bar where we had sat roughly 9 hours earlier, and decided on our next two sandwiches: corned beef and kielbasa.
We waited with anticipation, hoping that our second visit would validate the hype that had been so lavishly bestowed upon Primanti's and that had not been fulfilled during our first visit. The sandwiches came. We each grabbed half of the corned beef. We readied. And then we dug in.
Without a word, we each looked at each other and immediately knew what the other was thinking: the hype was real. This was a great sandwich. We finished our corned beef and moved on to the kielbasa. Amazingly, the kielbasa was the best of the four we'd had on the day. The kielbasa itself was delicious, and its intense flavor was balanced out incredibly well by the coleslaw and tomato on the sandwich.
Unfortunately, by this point, my camera was dying, so the only 2 pictures I have of our 2nd trip to Primanti's are this one of the kielbasa sandwich and the one at the top of the Act II post of my corned beef remnants. Still, even looking at these 2 pictures makes me hungry for another Primanti's kielbasa.
Official verdict for Primanti Brothers, 2AM: I would take a $10 cab ride for it. For me, Primanti's has joined the ranks of elite late-night food, taking its place right behind #1 Cosmic Cantina (the one in Durham, not the overpriced, second-rate NYC one) and #2 Pat's cheesesteaks. But remember to heed my words of advice: Take a cab (or go to a different location). Get the kielbasa. Go home happy. Someday, you'll look back on this and thank me.