What will we do today? Jerry’s research on the internet had led him to believe that tailgating was really the way to go, but from our home base at the Radisson, we weren’t really equipped for it. Besides, the plan was to do that in Buffalo.
So we went out looking for breakfast. After driving around for a bit in the area around the hotel, we had to conclude that we would not find anything satisfactory – in fact, we couldn’t find anything at all except for a bagel shop – so we headed for Downtown Pittsburgh for an adventure.
Not knowing where I was actually going, I ended up following the indication for the Convention Center. I knew it wasn’t far from the Strip, and figured that it was an area worth checking out anyway. Located by the old docks, this area of Pittsburgh has definetely seen better days. But it was our lucky day – we parked half-a-block south of Primanti Brothers‘original location on 18th street. Jerry’s research has told us that Primanti Bros. was an institution in Pittsburgh, and a must-go before a Steelers’ game.
Primanti Brothers is a sandwich chain of fifteen outlets throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area, with an additional two locations in Florida. It was founded in 1934.
We walked in. The place is clearly a blue-collar establishment, no fanciness, with wood tables where beer is drank cold and fast while feasting on the menu posted on a giant board at the back of the restaurant. We had a look at it after seating ourselves in a booth which had seen better days.
Jerry wanted breakfast, but we had just missed the deadline. We would have to settle for one of their regular fixtures. I hesitated – maybe I should go for a sandwich? But I decided to go for an item that looked exquisite – on the wall, at least: the Smallman Street Fries. Fresh cut fries, chilli, cheese, bacon, sour cream. Could this be a dream come true? Well, no. Are you kidding?
This thing was unreal. The fries weren’t bad at all – quite crispy, although greasy. But they serve a lot if it here, so they were fresh and nicely cooked. The chilli was half-decent, meaty and beanie, not spicy to my liking but that is understandable. The cheese? Well, it was that kind of cheese sauce they seem to pour everywhere here in Pittsburgh, some kind of re-processed Cheese Whiz.
The bacon was fake bacon bits, which added an unwanted dryness to the dish. The sour cream was helpful to make this thing more palatable, but let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend it. And the pool of grease at the bottom – literally, a pool – made it even more uninviting. I wish the coke I ordered had been bigger, to help wash it down. This poutine wannabe is light-years away from the subtle delicacy and fine balance one can find in Quebec‘s best poutine.
Jerry didn’t fare any better, by his standards. I didn’t mind his order that much – (He couldn’t bring himself to eat it all – so I had half to chase my Smallman Street Fries.) You see, unbeknownst to Jerry, the Primanti Bros’ sandwiches are famous because of how they are served. The menu is clear, but one could easily miss a key word: “All sandwiches are topped with french fries, cole slaw & tomatoes. Onions by request.” Topped. Not served. Not accompanied. Not coming with. No, no, no, no, no. TOPPED.
So here it is – the Black Angus Top Sirloin Steak & Cheese Sandwich:
Angus beef. Coleslaw. Fries. All stacked between two thick slices of Italian bread. Now, I wasn’t as repulsed by the whole concept as Jerry was. After all, I lived in Jonquière for three years, and in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region, and other areas in Quebec, it is not uncommon to serve hot dogs with fries and cabbage as garnish.
It was, however, fairly thick. Cut in half, you could see the bed of fries which is counting for half the sandwich. The meat wasn’t bad at tall, but it was kind of drowned out under the fries and the coleslaw. The slaw was vinegary, which does work with fries but makes the bread a little too wet for it to be eaten properly, if such a thing is possible. Biting into it, I wished I hadn’t ordered what I had.
Primanti is quite the experience. But Jerry was still hungry, and thank God we had our hockey tickets from last night, so we went ahead and enjoyed our free Big Macs after shopping for Steelers’ gear.