Do you remember your first Primanti’s experience? I know that I do… I was nineteen at the time and working at the hip, new coffee shop, right there, by The University of Pittsburgh. It was my lunchtime, and I was anxious to find something close, quick, easy and new. I left the buzzing aroma filled building, stomach growling, and ventured as far as next door, to the sandwich shop, not sure of what to expect. I’d passed by it many times before, not thinking twice, but this was the day I chose for adventure. I was a newbie vegetarian at the time, and my knowledge of food, and boundaries of what I could eat, were both extremely limited. Perhaps they had a garden burger for me? I walked in and was instantly overwhelmed by the display of meats that hung on the menu board above me. My mind dizzy with choices of Jumbo Baloney, Salami, Capicola, Pastrami… all sounding delicious to a carnivore, but somewhat paralyzing for a skinny girl who feasted on veggies. Roast beef, Kielbasa, Black Angus Steak… And then, what did we have here? A Double Egg and Cheese. Perfect! Eggs were the one thing that I still allowed myself. I had to find protein somewhere, after all. So, I sat down at the counter by the register and ordered up. The cook cracked those eggs right there on the flat top in front of me with an instant sizzle from the grill. The creamy provolone was melted on top shortly after. The next thing I knew, this guy was slapping that thick Italian sliced bread with my egg and cheese, french-fries, coleslaw, and tomatoes, then adding another white slice, just as thick, on top. He turned that beast to the side, gave it a quick slice down the middle and handed it over on a crisp, white paper wrap.
Sharing Primanti’s with some of our closest “out-of-towner” friends; Ty and Bernadette Baughman.
I looked at the sandwich, I looked at him, and worry began to set in. French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich? Now that’s just crazy. Not to mention that sandwich was as big as my entire head. How the heck was I going to eat all of that?
As they say, “One bite at a time.”
I picked that sucker up and somehow squashed all of those layers into my mouth at once. The warmth of the egg and cheese, the saltiness of the fries, the crunch from the slaw; it was pure heaven. I swear I heard the food angels above as they sang out and rejoiced, their rays shone down upon me in encouragement, and delight. That light and airy bread condensed down with each bite, and allowed me to take on more. Before I know it, I was done. I had eaten the entire thing, and in that moment, I was converted. I had joined the unknown millions at the time, got my new yinzer badge to add to my sash, and became another Primanti’s obsessed fan.
Founded by Joe Primanti in the early 1930’s, Primanti Bros. started as a simple sandwich cart in the Strip District, the centrally located warehouse vicinity that was home to many mills and factories in Pittsburgh, selling his foods to passing truckers and other blue collar workers, through all hours of the night and into the morning light. With the overwhelming response, the cart soon expanded to a storefront located on 18th street, where you can still get a sandwich today.
As the story goes, “”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.”* Today you can find Primanti’s at several of their locations across Pittsburgh and beyond.
A couple years after that first experience, I found myself on the black paved passage, headed west, and the single thing that I regret leaving behind in Pittsburgh was Primanti Bros. For years, I said that if they would just ship their sandwiches, that I’d buy, no matter the cost. I’d save up if I had to. I’d have the occasional indulgence on trips back home, but it never satisfied that need, that want or desire that those sandwiches leave behind. There was a void deep within until recently. About a year ago, I saw a glimmer of hope. I saw that Primanti’s had partnered up with Goldbely, and they were, in fact, shipping their sandwiches, nationwide. Oh glory day indeed! And so when National Sandwich Day came again this year, I had to place my order for the only sandwich worthy of such a grand celebration.
Goldbely has a fantastic approach as an online marketplace, whose vision is focused on a “Team of Food Explorers Sets Out to Discover the Most Incredible Edible Uniquely Delicious Foods in America…”* You can find anything from Pastrami on rye from New York, NY to Crawfish from Natchitoches, LA. Understanding the core behind culinary nostalgia, and all of the memories and sentimentalities that accompany it, Goldbely’s aim is to transport us emotionally and longingly through such recognized food pleasures, gratifying our yearnings and homesickness with a simple cardboard box filled with found treasures. And they do this successfully. Their team is constantly in search for the best of the best, across the nation, seeking out what foods define this country, and then they offer to share it with all of us. They team up with local restaurants and specialty food shops from east to west, shipping your orders overnight. The products come fresh and ready to eat with minimal preparation. There was definitely no disappointment from this kitchen when it came to them partnering up with Primanti’s.
Surprisingly, this sandwich kit is just about as authentic as you can get without actually being in a Primanti’s location. Add a fried egg, put on the Stiller game, throw around a lil’ Pittsburghese n’ at, and maybe add a cold Iron to the whole sha’ bang, and those homesick blues will dissipate, for a moment, at least. So, if you’re like me, and the many others who have left the ‘Burgh for one reason or another, I really recommend that you indulge yourself in this treat. It’ll be worth it. Not regrets here. And I’m even looking forward to our next shipment sometime soon!
Ahnno-dat, yinze gotsta try et at least once… Furill. How’s come? Welp, The fact of the matter is… it’s A Burgh Thing. So, That’s it, Fort Pitt. Squeet now! Kay?