After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.
The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the latest inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.
Photo by Francesca Fello
This is an oversight.
The After Dark Hall of Fame, published throughout the past five years on a strict schedule of whenever I think about it, should’ve included Primanti Bros. much, much earlier.
Debate the merits of the chain’s iconic sandwich if you’d like. For my money, while it might not be a sine qua non of local cuisine, it’s a damn fine meal — filling, savory and flavorful. Foodies may scoff and the calorie-conscious may recoil, sure, but it is a sturdy, respectable, blue-collar sandwich.
That’s not, however, what makes Primanti Bros. Hall of Fame-worthy.
There’s a scene in “Flashdance,” that Pittsburgh-set slice of well-aged ’80s cheese, where a struggling comedian compares his plight to that of the black and gold. “It took the Steelers 40 years to win a championship, didn’t it?”
At the reference, a slightly soused yinzer in the back row starts clapping frantically. “Steelers!,” he exclaims — no context provided or necessary.
I watched “Flashdance” last weekend, and at that moment, I thought: “Ah, yes. There’s Pittsburgh.”
That’s why Primanti’s is, and must be, in the After Dark Hall of Fame. Because when you see it, taste it, smell it: “Ah, yes. There’s Pittsburgh.”
The core locations — Strip, Oakland, South Side — are where Pittsburgh expats return to wash themselves in the Steel City ethos. The suburban locations, where cole slaw and fries are carried through the region’s veins for delivery to the Pittsburgh diaspora, are where far-flung locals go to feel a tangible connection to the city’s heart. Tendrils reach out into Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, where the Pittsburgh connection may only be slightly identifiable but is assuredly felt.
Large meals. Too many french fries. The game on the television. Cold beer. No pretension, nothing fancy.
Ah, yes. There’s Pittsburgh.
There are innumerable other details I could cite — happy-hour specials that actually matter, the laudable prominence of capicola, the nationwide ingredient-shipping to displaced ’Burghers — but citing the specific reasons why Pittsburgh loves Primanti’s is an absurd endeavor. It’s griddle-cooked into our DNA. Even if you don’t particularly like the sandwich, even if you haven’t been to a restaurant in years, you love Primanti’s.
So yes, I probably should’ve put the Primanti Bros. family of restaurants into the After Dark Hall of Fame a bit earlier. But for my oversight, I can instead say that they get to be entry #10, and that seems fitting; our anniversary edition goes back to where it might’ve started.
Oh, and whatever myth you’ve heard about the creation of the signature sandwich isn’t true. (I’ve probably published one or two of them myself over the years, so I’m not blameless in this one.) The company finally cleared up the discrepancy once and for all on its official webpage: Primanti cousin John DiPriter got an unexpected load of potatoes one day and decided to fry them and put them on a sandwich.
It’s a culinary creation after all.