When you think of Pittsburgh, you may think of a hearty city, built with grit and practicality but today is filled with all the essentials of life. That same description could also be used to describe the sandwich that put Pittsburgh on the map: the Primanti Bros. sandwich! Beginning in the 1930’s with 3 brothers and a cousin selling jam-packed sandwiches to hungry truck drivers, the “almost famous” sandwich maker has since expanded from the original location in the Strip District to over 30 different locations around Pennsylvania and other states like Ohio, West Virginia, even Florida! The secret to their expansion? Just go under the hood (hood being the freshest of Italian breads) to see all that’s in your made to order sandwich: your choice of meat, provolone cheese, tomato, coleslaw, and…wait for it…French fries! Put that all together and you have a sandwich too big for any mortal human to finish in one setting. So for this installment of Famished with Friends, I sat down with Andrew Mackenzie (and Roger SinClair again, you can check out his shining moment here) at the second location ever for Primanti Bros. in Oakland.
Atmosphere and Service: Almost a gastropub but definitely not a dive bar, Primanti Bros. (Primantis) finds itself in a weird position on the culinary hierarchy. The feeling as you walk in is one of confusion if the waiter or waitress isn’t there to seat you (as in our case) and even more conflict when we realized we wouldn’t be seeing much of our (eventual) waiter, for his style was very touch and go. Aside from the very hands-off hospitality we received, the place itself stood out starkly in my mind: The establishment consisted of 2 levels, with the bottom half akin to your neighborhood sports bar and the upper half reminiscent of a Palm Steakhouse with a who’s who of Pittsburgh stretching the length of the wall. I’ve never felt more “yinzy” than in that moment!
Food: When I said it was too big of a sandwich that may have been an understatement. I specifically ordered the sandwich packed with everything I said above (my choice of meat was pastrami) and it still seemed like the sandwich was hiding a small dog amongst the coleslaw, that’s how dense this thing was. And I have to say, even for all the density, there was still substance and taste to each component: the Italian bread really was fresh, the coleslaw was cool and creamy, the meat tasted well-seasoned, and the fries had distinct crispness, not crunchy but just enough thickness to not completely dissolve. There was one big drawback, almost as big as the sandwich itself: it was too overpowering. The greasiness plus the sheer amount of food and flavor was too much to finish, and having been at least my 3rd or 4th time visiting Primantis in the past several years, I had alread prepared to take the rest of my sandwich home. To eat at Primantis, I have to be in a special mood and absolutely famished to finish a sandwich and not hate myself. So luckily, I saved myself from a food coma, but it took all my energies not to finish the darn thing, for it was still a delicious sandwich.
Cost: With a tip I paid slightly under $10, which is very good for the full feeling plus a second lunch! You definitely don’t need to break the bank at Primantis, especially if you want decent quality.
The Verdict: 7.2/10
Translation: For some people, this place will be a weekly hang out and pig out spot. For me, Primantis is a once, maybe twice a year venture when someone else brings it up as a destination. That being said, I am very impressed with the quality of the meal and charmed by the ‘burgh pride which this institution holds. Hopefully one day it will evolve from “almost famous” to “legendary”, but that will take some time.
Andrew’s take: For me the best part of Primantis is the value. I think that considering the price you’re paying (probably about $7-8) you can’t beat what you get as far as quality goes. Because of the inclusion of the fries and coleslaw in the actual sandwich, it’s easy to forget how much you’re actually getting. As far as negatives go, I would say the size of the venue. It has always felt a little small to me and I’m a bit closer to the other tables then I would prefer. Nonetheless, Primantis is a pretty causal venue, and although nothing too formal or fancy, it’s certainly a must visit location in Pittsburgh. It’s great for friends and family, especially if they are from out of town (bonus points for the mini-mural in the upstairs of the Oakland location with famous Pittsburgh figures.)
Andrew Mackenzie is a rising junior majoring in Finance and Business Information Systems from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. His Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/andrewmack14/?hl=en so go give him a follow!
Primanti Bros. is a local Pittsburgh chain restaurant which began in the mid 1930’s as a local trucker stop but has now grown to over 30 restaurants along the east coast. They are known for their jam packed sandwiches, loaded up with meat, cheese, coleslaw, and French fries. Stop on over to one near you today: http://www.primantibros.com/