There is probably more in print - and on television - about Pittsburgh's Primanti Brothers than every James Beard Award winner. Combined. And that is the last the time "James Beard Award" and "Primanti Brothers" will appear in the same sentence. In case you missed the article in National Geographic, the spots on Man vs. Food and the Jon Stewart Show or are not a 'burgh resident, then you probably do not know about Primanti's goodness. From the wall-hung catalog of about 20 meat/fish choices, the rest is automatic. Your selection is jammed between vinegary slaw, fries, tomatoes and crusty bread. Oversimplified! This is sandwich mecca.
Nothing fancy. Only good!The bread perfectly tops and bottoms the Primanti Brothers' creationsIf you have a fear, hesitation or any air of caution when it comes to dainty food handling, drive on by. If organic, low-fat or vegan are part of your entrenched eating habit, Primanti's is not for you. The place is more garage than restaurant. Parts of sandwiches are fixed up, man-handled and assembled. It's raucousy, bright and impossibly addictive. There is a din; a grease and slaw-covered beautiful deliciousness that defines this space. There is a knowing swagger - call it comfort - of the unruly bunch that man the controls of this sandwich mill. It is a craft that they know. They are not artists and would never perpetrate that notion. No, they are skilled in speed, dexterity and the overt comfort in unstuffy service. This is blue collar, baby, and damn, it feels good! Around the room, a mishmash mix and hodgepodge of locals, tourists and the curious.
Toni is masterful, snarky and dead-seriousSome places try to be comfortable and welcoming.To everybody at Primanti's, it is true; everybody is knocked to the lowest common denominator and that is beautiful in its simplicity. There is no fuss made if you wear a tie. There is no squeaky voice, kneel table side, to appease infants. This is wood paneling, jeans and a belly with a need. If you like urn-brewed coffee, stainless steel as a decorative element and big-ass bottles of ketchup and no gloves, then you will enjoy this place, it is the cobblestone road of American eating.
Nothing retro or kitschy; all genuine and fittingNo #hashtags! No "local, sustainable" BS! No daily specials! So what is Primanti Brothers? It is a way of thinking - much more so than it is merely just a way of eating. Pretentiousness has no place. It is comfortable like old slippers; it is a smile from the nice, if not rugged, ladies behind the counter; it is the newspaper handed to you by the guy at the end of the counter without even a nod to needing today's Post Gazette; it is the TV with KDKA-2 tuned too loud to a Pirates' game and nobody giving a damn that you have to yell to get a refill of 'pop'. It is sandwich after sandwich after sandwich on deli paper, slid down the greasy cutting board as fast as the piles of ingredients can be carved out and jammed between bread.
Harmony and peace between breadAs a struggling University of Pittsburgh - ahem, Pitt - student , I lived two years dining almost exclusively on Primanti's. My routine was so embedded, the guy behind the register had my sandwich waiting on most days. Every trip to Pittsburgh necessitates a stop at one of the Primanti Brother locations. Usually, that means the original shop, open 24-hours. You see, it has the same charm as your Aunt who smokes too much, shows up disheveled for family events, but always seems to bear the best birthday presents. Comfortable. Genuine. Definitely unassuming. It will be my destination when I know a meteorite is inbound. It is my 'desert island' food choice. It is my Last Supper. I'll belly up to the counter, order the usual, watch the naked paws manhandle the potatoes, the slaw, dutifully dispense of the bread slicing and stack sandwich goodness piled like a gross attack on every bit of sensible nutrition - and for that, I shall rest eternally grateful.
Toni and I in a rare moment; Toni is one of the pulsing beats of Primanti Brothers. She is tough and sweet!