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Posted on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 8 a.m.

You can make a famous Pittsburgh tradition, the Primanti Bros. sandwich, at home

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

My BFF, Wendy, and I went on one of our infamous "Thelma and Louise"-style adventures recently, spending the weekend in Pittsburgh.


Yes, absolutely — Pittsburgh! It's a fabulous food town, like Chicago, serving unbelievably generous portions of great dishes. And the people are wonderfully friendly, maintaining a small-town neighborly demeanor in a large city. We were welcomed everywhere we went, and enjoyed ourselves immensely while seeing new sights and making new friends.

I was supposed to stop in Pittsburgh last year, on my way to a graduation in Philadelphia; but due to circumstances beyond my control, the trip was cancelled. But then I didn't get to see The Andy Warhol Museum, and I didn't get to eat at the famous restaurant that my friend Ellen — a Pittsburgh native — had recommended.

So, in need of diversion and an opportunity to discuss life and love in great depth during a 10-hour round trip, Wendy and I went to visit a city neither of us had been to in so long that we're not entirely sure whether we'd ever been there before at all.

We set out early in the morning, and arrived just in time for lunch — how perfect! We meandered towards The Strip — a neighborhood with fabulous restaurants and amazing food stores of all types — and staked our place in line at Primanti Bros., an institution since 1933.

The line moved well, as this is not a place to linger at. You order quickly, your food is brought quickly, you eat quickly, you relinquish your seat to the next customer. We sat at the counter, watched Michigan score a touchdown against Michigan State as we soaked up the atmosphere, and then the ham-and-cheese sandwich we were planning to split arrived in front of us.

The schtick at Primanti Bros. is that the cole slaw and the fries aren't served alongside your sandwich: they're stuffed right into it. And this behemoth cost only $6.49 — a Frugal Floozie Friday option, at $5 or less per person, even when I'm away from home!

When the sandwich is placed before you, it is impossible to simply pick it up and start eating. Not only do you first have to assess the situation to determine how to position your hands to keep from having 83 percent of the filling fall out onto your lap when you take a bite; but you also have to simply stare in disbelief at how huge it is, and how odd it is to see the side dishes crammed into the main portion of your lunch.

Remarkably, Wendy and I managed to get good grips on our food and to eat without having everything ooze out. It sounds like a very strange combination, but I have to say that this mixture really works!

The cole slaw was neither too tart nor too sweet, and complemented the saltiness of the ham quite well. The french fries were an ideal pairing with the ham and the cheese. The variety of flavors and textures really united, rather than being disparate and disjointed; these ingredients weren't just thrown together for novelty's sake, but truly formed a whole.

So once we got home, I decided to make my own Primanti-style sandwich because there was really no way to adequately describe the experience of it to Jeremy. He was duly impressed when I presented my creation (pictured at the top of the post); he's a brave eater and will try virtually anything I ask him to. And, needless to say, he loved it!

I have fabulous memories of Pittsburgh; Wendy and I had an exceptional, wonderful trip! And any time I need a refresher, I'll simply make one of these sandwiches and think of how much fun we had on our adventure.

Primanti Bros. Sandwich

1-1/2 cups frozen french fries
4 1" thick slices of soft white Italian-style bread
generous schmears of brown mustard
4 slices American cheese
8 slices salami or other lunch meat
1 cup sweet cole slaw

Prepare french fries according to package directions.

Meanwhile, lay the bread onto the countertop. Schmear each slice with mustard, then place 2 bread slices mustard-side up onto dinner plates.

Place 2 slices of cheese onto each slice of bread, and top the cheese with 4 slices of salami. Place 1/2-cup cole slaw onto each sandwich, then divide the french fries and place half onto each sandwich. Top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread, mustard-side down.

Makes 2 sandwiches, feeding 2-4.

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Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures in the kitchen. She was thrilled to have her post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread named as one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal.

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. Her newest feature is Frugal Floozie Friday, seeking fun and food for $5 or less ... really! Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here.



Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

Having family in Pittsburgh I will ask them about this restaurant. Interesting.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

I love The Strip District and Primanti's! Their sandwiches have to be seen to be believed. You also have to check out The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in The Strip -- excellent and very interesting food shopping in a 100 year old setting.

Mary Bilyeu

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

Oh, isn't Penn-Mac fabulous?!?!? Wendy and I peeked in, just as we were preparing to leave town; a good half-hour later, our arms laden with pasta and ground porcini mushrooms and Italian baked goods and all sorts of other goodies, we could have set up camp there! It will definitely find its way into future recipe posts ... :)

Ann Arbor With Kids

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Pittsburgh is not Philly nor is it in Philly. Philadelphia is Philly. Those in PIttsburgh get offended by thinking all of Pennsylvania is Philadelphia. I was expecting a Philly Cheesesteak recipe from the title and wondering why I didn't know Primanti Bros from my years in the Philly area.

Jim Knight

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Ann Arbor With Kids: Thanks for the note about the headline. We made the correction.