What Makes Primanti Bros. Sandwiches An Icon In Pittsburgh

You can often identify a city by its icons. For example, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty are unmistakable symbols of NYC. The Golden Gate Bridge is a translation for San Francisco. And when it comes to the people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, they immediately identify with yellow bridges, Andy Warhol, and a very unique type of sandwich made fabulous by an eatery called Primanti Bros.

Now a chain of restaurants spread out across five states, the original location in Pittsburgh's famed Strip District is over 90 years old, and draws in scores of locals and tourists, all of whom are itching to taste their first (or 101st) Primanti sandwich. On it, meat and cheese are piled high in between two slices of soft Italian bread (not to be confused with French bread)

But what really sets these gut-busters apart is the addition of a generous serving of fresh-cut fries and plenty of sweet and sour coleslaw inside the sandwich. Customers can choose from a slew of meat fillings, like turkey, pastrami, corned beef, fried eggs, fried fish, and even a black bean patty, but the fries and slaw are staples, and really what makes the dish famous.

Created with blue-collar workers in mind who needed a filling meal they could eat quickly, Primanti sandwiches now appeal to anyone with a big appetite, and are definitely something Pittsburgh as a whole is proud of.

A bite of hand-held history

In a video posted by Primanti Brothers on YouTube, it's perfectly said that "to hold an almost-famous Primanti Brothers sandwich in your hand is to hold history." In 1933, Joe Primanti saw an opportunity to open a sandwich cart in a bustling area of Pittsburgh known as the Strip District. His business did well, but it was a fateful exchange with a man hauling potatoes that changed the direction of Primanti's sandwiches forever.

A truck carrying a load of potatoes showed up in front of Primanti's storefront one winter day, with the driver bringing the shop a handful of spuds. When Primanti fried them up, customers asked for some, so he placed them on the sandwiches, much to the customers' delight. As word spread, the truck drivers who regularly came through the Strip District found that they could eat what they now considered a full meal with one hand, as the fries were tucked into a handheld sandwich.

Though, when a towering Primanti sandwich is placed in front of you, you may wonder how in the world anyone could possibly eat it with one hand. They are giant, bursting with layers of meat, cheese, the fries and slaw, plus slices of tomato. But the bread is pillowy soft, allowing you to somewhat squeeze this beast into something you can bite through. The vinegar-based slaw is an especially brilliant addition, as the tang is a nice foil to the deep-fried potatoes, fatty meat, and cheese.

No plate is needed for these Pittsburgh staples

Today, the Primanti Bros. sandwiches are considered a must-have meal for anyone visiting the Pittsburgh area. If you are a newcomer, you'll probably notice on the wall menu that the number two best-selling item is noted as the Pitts-burger and Cheese sandwich, which comes with a seasoned ground beef patty. Curiously, the number one bestseller is missing, leading most to inquire with their server. Without missing a beat, the server will explain that Iron City beer — another Pittsburgh-born and bred treat — is the top seller in the restaurant.

When your sandwich arrives, it will be on a sheet of paper, not a plate, adding to the unique experience of dining at this historic spot. The company also opts for a disposable table protector so all your server needs to do is fold up the remains of the paper and toss it away. Though these regional sandwiches don't show up on Food Republic's top 40 sandwiches, after one bite, it'll be a wonder why not. The sandwich was even featured recently on "The Drew Barrymore Show," amplifying its legendary status.

Primanti Bros. is definitely a no-frills kind of place where the sandwiches and the beer are the stars of the show, but, more than that, the spot gives customers a taste of Steel City hospitality. Friendly guests will be happily welcomed and eagerly served, as this City of Bridges prides itself on having something for everyone to enjoy.