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Primanti Brothers: Pittsburgh's Iconic Sandwich Shop

Charles loves to cook and enjoys trying new recipes every day. He also loves sampling local restaurants wherever he goes.

The New Yorker, a "stuffed and stacked" monster sandwich at Primanti Bros.

The New Yorker, a "stuffed and stacked" monster sandwich at Primanti Bros.

A Brief Primanti Bros. History Lesson

Primanti Brothers is a sandwich shop turned chain restaurant with locations in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1933, Joe Primanti founded his sandwich shop and opened up his first place in the historic Strip District on 18th Street. The shop is best known for their "stacked and stuffed" sandwiches.

These huge sandwiches generally contain grilled meats, melted cheese, coleslaw, and french fries. This concoction derives from the legend that "one day while serving sandwiches from his food cart, Joe Primanti decided to combine all the ingredients of a meal into one sandwich and wrap it in a newspaper in order to accommodate the many truck drivers in this busy part of town."

In theory, this allowed the truckers to continue driving with one hand while eating their Primanti Brothers sandwich with the other. This practice of sandwich making obviously took off and has been a Pittsburgh staple ever since.

Iconic menu items on the nostalgic menu board at the Uniontown, PA, Primanti Brothers location

Iconic menu items on the nostalgic menu board at the Uniontown, PA, Primanti Brothers location

First Impressions

Full disclosure, I wasn't able to visit the original restaurant on 18th Street in Pittsburgh. It was far from the route I was traveling so I decided to stop at one of their other 37 locations in and around the Pittsburgh area. This particular Primanti Brothers restaurant is located in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

The Unioniontown location is a big restaurant located in a strip mall, not so much a sandwich shop like the original but more of a full-fledged restaurant and bar. Tasteful decorations of Pittsburgh- and Pennsylvania-themed decorations along with historic iconography of the original restaurant were presented throughout. The restaurant was divided into two sections, a dimly lit dining section with a cozy feeling was on one side while the other section had more of a sports bar vibe. In my opinion, the interior was clean, tasteful, and well thought out.

I opted for a seat at the bar located adjacent to a large sunroom that offered diners plenty of natural lighting. This area provided a bright and lively atmosphere compared to the rest of the place. The menu was a little daunting as I was presented with a huge amount of dining choices from regular and "stuffed" sandwiches to pizza, burgers, wings, and more.

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The bartender was on point and immediately chatted me up with small talk and questions about my travel to this restaurant location. Seeing I was a bit overwhelmed with the menu, she took the time to personally recommend her favorite sandwich. It sounded like something I would enjoy, so I settled on that.

Outside view of the Uniontown Primanti Bros. location.

Outside view of the Uniontown Primanti Bros. location.

The Primanti Bros. Experience

I decided to order the sandwich that my bartender suggested, "The New Yorker." A "stuffed and stacked" sandwich consisting of pastrami, corned beef, swiss, spicy beer mustard, coleslaw, and french fries stuffed between two slices of thick-cut, soft, and fluffy Italian-style bread. I opted out of the Swiss cheese, I prefer provolone. Other than that quick change, the sandwich arrived pretty much as described on the menu.

A monster of a sandwich, I wasn't really sure how to approach this behemoth. After a quick photo shoot, I tried to find an angle of attack. I decided to cut it in half to have a better chance of success. Slicing through the layers was no easy task. Since the bread was so soft, the grilled meats on the bottom layer had completely dissolved the bottom slice of bread, leaving me with a dripping pile of meat, cheese, fries, and a fully intact top slice of bread.

This was beginning to get ugly, quick! Staring at my plate, I was completely at a loss. There was no way I was going to eat this thing without a fight, so I rolled up my sleeves and went in. The beef juices and mustard immediately began to fight back by instantly clinging to my fingers and palms. covered in mustard and beef juice, I quickly defended them with a handful of napkins conveniently placed nearby by my bartender.

The first bite overwhelmed my taste buds with the flavors of smoky corned beef and pastrami followed by the pungent, beer-infused flavor of the spicy mustard. The acidity of the mustard perfectly cut through the fatty beef and melted provolone cheese, perfectly complimenting the sandwich as expected.

I continued on this way, wiping and dabbing, dabbing and wiping with my napkins, holding the mustard at bay as I masterfully assaulted this "stacked and stuffed" sandwich with both hands and the cleverly provided knife and fork. I was definitely winning. After a short battle, I defeated this formidable foe with only a full stomach and minor spicy beer-infused mustard stains on my face and hands to show for it. Although messy, this sandwich definitely satisfies. With a few special techniques reserved for professionals, this sandwich is conquerable.

My Final Rating

Overall, I would rate this sandwich a 3.8/5 and the flavor combination a 5/5. In my opinion, the french fries would have been better suited served on the side with a pickle perhaps. Nothing personal but I simply am not a fan of french fries in my food but rather alongside. It wouldn't hurt to possibly think about a stronger bread that could hold up to the juices of the grilled meats, maybe rye or sourdough bread. Other than that, I can't wait to get back to try out some of their other choices such as the pizza, wings, or burgers, namely the "Pitts-Burger." I hope my review of Primanti Bros. was helpful. Stay tuned for more. Happy eating!

© 2022 Charles Kikas

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