It started as a sandwich place for hungry truckers and became a signature diner where you are guaranteed to learn what a quintessential Pittsburgh sammich stands for.
Call it a belly bomb. Primanti’s Bros. sandwich is a Pittsburgh institution. You say it’s bad for you? With coleslaw, fresh grilled meat and tomatoes? C’mon… And as far as many Pittsburghers are concerned, fries are made of potatoes, and potatoes are vegetables. So there.
Not convinced? Well, then you must have missed the news that Primanti’s sandwich once earned a title of the best sandwich in America AND in 2010, ESPN.com ranked PNC Park as the best ballpark in the country largely because they offer Primanti’s sandwiches complete with “generous servings of roast beef, cheese, coleslaw and — this is the key — French fries all between two buns.” The reviewer wrote, “I bet Willie Stargell ate them for breakfast.”
One more? Primanti Brothers made the list of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die in the USA.” Just do not die there due to cholesterol overdose.
It all began in the Strip District in 1933 at 18th and Smallman as a small family business founded by one of the brothers named Joe Primanti, a Pennsylvania native. His brothers Dick and Stanley and their nephew John DePriter joined the business right away.
The signature sandwich was a Depression-era invention and this is how the composition or, as some would probably call it — the concoction, came about, according to a story allegedly told by John DePriter himself: “One winter, a fella drove in with a load of potatoes. He brought a few of ‘em over to the restaurant to see if they were frozen. I fried the potatoes on our grill and they looked pretty good. A few of our customers asked for them, so I put the potatoes on their sandwiches.” The rest, as they say, is history.”
The Primanti Bros. chain has been feeding Pittsburghers and visitors to the city for more than 80 years. When it opened, it served primarily the late-night crowd. First, the customers were workers who unloaded produce in the Strip; in the 1970s, the Post-Gazette called Primanti’s customers “night hawks from all walks of life.” Today, there are 17 Primanti Brothers diners in the Pittsburgh area and three locations in Florida.
For a few years, the Post-Gazette had a tradition of running “readers’ choice for the best sandwiches in Pittsburgh.” We determined that several years in a row, Primanti’s sandwiches won and our guess is that the newspaper stopped the contest due to readers’ choices, which would predictably come from Primanti Brothers’ menu.
(Top image: Pittsburgh policeman, Wayne Wilson, of Morningside, bites into his favorite Primanti’s Brothers sandwich, pastrami, egg, with the slaw and fries, lettuce and tomato, our readers’ choice for the best sandwich in Pittsburgh, 1993, John Heller/Post-Gazette)