Pittsburgh Dining at a Distance: Sandwiches Galore
PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein is celebrating six recent sandwich triumphs.
I hadn’t intended to write a sandwich round-up but I’m in a groove. Sandwiches have been my go-to takeout lunch for the past two weeks.
Portable by design, many sandwiches are built to hold a few hours. Some even get better as they sit, making them easy to take to wherever you’re going. Hot sandwiches almost always are better right away, but, since they require nothing other than a napkin (restaurant operators, please don’t forget extra napkins for your messier sandwiches), you can eat them in your car, in a nearby park or walking through side streets on a snowy afternoon, all of which you can do even in the depths of winter. On top of that, sandwiches, generally, are affordable, making them a terrific way to regularly support local restaurants without breaking the bank.
I ate six outstanding sandwiches in the last fortnight. Here they are.
Pane è Pronto: Prosciutto and Sharp Provolone / Calabrian Pitta Panni ⇑
The sandwiches from Pane è Pronto are perfect snackers, designed to be able to take anywhere. They might even get a little better as their flavors mingle after sitting for a few hours. They look so appealing in the display case, however, that you might do what I did, which was to have half as soon as I walked out the door. You might also order more than one; I had two sandwiches when I visited over the weekend. The first, a chunky spread of cooked tomatoes, anchovy and onions inside an airy Calabrian pitta, was pure cucina povera, umami-rich heaven. The second, prosciutto and sharp provolone panini, took me back to park picnics while visiting Italy. Keep them loosely wrapped on the counter if you’re going to eat them a few hours after purchasing; the bread, all made in-house, will be better that way than it would be if you put it in the refrigerator.
2627 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/815-3300, paneepronto.com
Oak Hill Post: Beets & Greens
Oak Hill Post is a South Hills sandwich standout. The Brookline restaurant offers an ever-changing selection of sandwiches and burgers, and they are worth driving through a tunnel or two to eat them. Last week, I crushed Beets and Greens, a heroic vegetarian sandwich. It gets its bass from earthy roasted beets. Bitter rapini and arugula, zingy marinated olives, herbaceous sauce gribiche and creamy Boursin cheese round the composition, which is served between airy housemade focaccia. I took mine to a nearby park, but this is one of those sandwiches that hold up for a longer journey.
600 Brookline Blvd., Brookline; 412/254-2970, oakhillpost.com
The Speckled Egg: Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken salad doesn’t get the love it deserves. It’s one of those dishes that got a bad rap from too many industrialized, uneven permutations. For lovers and dissenters alike, The Speckled Egg offers a beautifully balanced version, warming turmeric lacing through marinated chicken dressed with lemon aioli, and bolstered with almonds, celery and raisins, all on a bed of crisp lettuce. The toasted Mediterra Bakehouse sandwich bread offers a sturdy home.
501 Grant St., Downtown; 412/251-5248, thespeckledeggpgh.com
Bitter Ends Luncheonette: Sweet Potato Big Mac
Last week, I was thrilled when Bitter Ends Luncheonette chef/owner Becca Hegarty announced that she’d received a shipment of purple sweet potatoes from one of my favorite farms, The Fields Edge Research Farm in Lititz. Hegarty combined those vivid tubers with greens from one of my other favorite farms, Joddo Oddo’s Bitter Ends Farm Co., dressed it with onions, aioli and herbs, and served it inside her breathtakingly delicious seeded sandwich bun. I had a messy, magical moment in my kitchen stuffing my face with the harmony of flavors and textures.
4613 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; tillthebitterends.com
St. Clair Social: Fried Cod Sandwich
The fried cod sandwich from St. Clair Social is pub grub at its finest. Nothing over-the-top, the restrained build delivers precisely what you want to satisfy a fried fish sandwich craving. The cod fillet is soaked in buttermilk, lightly breaded and fried crisp. It’s dressed with shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato and malt-vinegar aioli, all in a squishy sandwich roll. The way the fish is battered helps the sandwich hold for a bit without losing its crunch, but I recommend eating it soon after picking it up.
302 S St Clair St, Friendship; 412/600-1572, stclairsocialpgh.com
Sakura: Laotongguan Pork Sandwich
Sakura is one of my touchstone takeout restaurants. In addition to hand-pulled noodles and dumplings, one of my favorite dishes is a Xi’an street food, Laotongguan pork sandwich. Crisp, savory and meaty, this’ll be on your cravings list after the first time you’ve tried it. I love to dip mine in a mix of chili oil and black vinegar. I ordered a couple of the airy, layered fried pancakes stuffed with slightly spicy marinated pork for a fried-food fireside Hanukkah dinner — and ate one on the way there.
5882 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412/422-7188, sakurapgh.com