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Eight Rules for Eating at Primanti Brothers

I’m all about touristy sandwiches.  Living an hour north of Philadelphia, I always encourage out-of-town guests to have at least one cheese steak when visiting my area–ideally served with pierogies.  I made sure to hit up the best po boy shop in town when I visited New Orleans–and even managed to make room for mufaletta on that same trip.  Local sandwich specialties are a fun, budget-friendly way to explore an area.  They are also often offered up at restaurants and diners that, due to their popularity, are open at all hours.

I found myself dining at Primanti Brothers (and I use the term ‘dining’ loosely) late on a holiday weekend Sunday night.  There was little else open in downtown Pittsburgh, so I made my way to the Market Square location to find the unhealthiest dinner imaginable.  If you are planning a visit yourself, check out the lessons I learned while attempting to consume the giant hunk of sandwich-y goodness pictured below. 

Rules for Eating at Primanti Brothers

1.  Go big or go home.  All of the sandwiches at Primanti Brothers contain the same basic ingredients–bread, coleslaw, french fries, and tomato.  The only thing you have to pick out is the meat you’d like squished between all of these elements.  For the life of me, I couldn’t decide what would be the best option–and then I saw it.  On someone’s sandwich behind me.  Bacon.  So much bacon.  So I ordered the bacon and cheese sandwich.  Sound unhealthy?  It absolutely was.  But it started out that way.  I mean come on, we’re talking about a french fry sandwich here.  What’s a little more fat and cholesterol going to hurt?

2.  Don’t wear nice pants.  No matter what, you are going to get food on your lap.  That food is probably going to be greasy.  You will not leave Primanti Brothers looking as well-groomed as you did when you came in.  So don’t wear anything that’s dry-clean-only.  And while you’re picking out your casual pants, consider something with an elastic waistband.

3.  Sit at the bar.  If you are dining at Primanti Brothers as a tourist experience–and let’s be realistic, that’s what everyone there is doing–you might as well get a show with your dinner.  Watching the wait staff make the sandwiches at lightning speed is impressive.  It should also inspire you to tip well, as you can see they are clearly working their butts off.

4.  Don’t underestimate your ability to eat.  I visited Primanti Brothers (and Pittsburgh) with a friend.  It was my intention to encourage him to share a sandwich with me rather than each order our own.  I assumed there would be no way I’d finish a whole sandwich.  I was wrong.  And I’m glad he refused to split one with me.  Which brings me to my next point…

5.  Share.  Notice I didn’t say ‘he refused to share one with me’.  While we each ordered our own sandwich, we split each in half and thus got to sample two different varieties.  Oddly, for two sandwiches made up mostly the same ingredients, they were very different–as I said, I ordered the bacon and cheese and he ordered the corned beef.  They were both very good in their own way, and I had a hard time deciding which one was to be my ‘last bite’ (I do that thing where I save my favorite part of a meal for my final bite–that’s normal, right?)

6.  When offered hot sauce, accept it.  Halfway through my sandwich, I discovered a bottle of hot sauce on the counter in front of me.  So I added some to my sandwich.  After all, the thing was already covered with an improbable mountain of bizarre ingredients.  Why not add one more?

7.  Don’t plan anything else for the rest of the night.  I’m so glad I didn’t choose to come here for lunch.  That would have been a huge mistake and would have likely ruined the rest of my day.  You know how you feel after Thanksgiving dinner?  Yeah.  It’s kind of like that.  But with even more of a carb crash at the end.  Finishing a Primanti Brothers sandwich will be the last productive thing you do that day.  Trust me.

8.  Don’t take advice from anyone else.  I was told by two different people to avoid Primanti Brothers–one friend told me that it is too touristy, the other told me it just wasn’t very good.  Well, I can honestly say that as a huge food snob–and someone who typically avoids anything that can be considered a tourist trap–I really enjoyed my (giant, fat-laden) sandwich.  On top of that, on a cold winter night, the dining room itself was a welcome haven of chatter and warmth.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to anyone who told me not to go.  So stop reading this post and go get your own sandwich.  And then make sure to come back and tell me what you thought!

Have you been to Primanti Brothers?  If so, what was your experience like?  Are there any must-visit local sandwich shops in your town?  What is the sandwich specialty in your part of the world?  Share in the comments below!

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