Pittsburgh’s many cool new culinary choices are a good thing. But let’s not lose sight of one of the things our town does best: making a memorable sandwich.
There’s been some turmoil in the Pittsburgh sandwich kingdom as of late, with Nied’s Hotel in Lawrenceville closing and taking their famous fish sandwich into the realm of memory. Smallman Street Deli in Squirrel Hill has also closed after a long, good run.
So with a nod to those epic sandwich-makers, let’s take stock of the great sandwiches we can savor right now.
Peppi’s Old Tyme Sandwich Shop, various locations
Although I’ve never seen any of the various Steelers and celebrities in the black-and-white photos on the walls actually eating at the original North Side location, I like that the local characters and regulars are right up there next to the legends. All are equal in the great temple of the sandwich. A small army of sandwich makers cuts and slices furiously at Peppi’s, looking up only to take your order. The Big Nate is the standard Peppi’s hoagie, exploding with chopped and grilled steak and chicken. Even if you ask them to go easy on the grilled onions and provolone, it’s still a mighty deed to down this in one sitting. Then there’s the Cathedral ($5.25), a feat of sandwich architecture to behold — a triple-decker with hot grilled turkey, ham and bacon, covered with melted provolone.
Duncan St. Sandwich Shop, Millvale
Sandwiches are the simplest thing, right? Just a bunch of stuff between bread. But searching for the perfect sandwich is a lifetime quest, one the Duncan Street Sandwich Shop has undertaken with alacrity. A simple pork sandwich is lovely, but why do things halfway? The Everything Pork goes a whole lot further, combining perfectly roasted pork, everything seasoning, pickled red onion jam, boursin, cucumber and fried onion. Another standout is the Roasted Mushroom, made with Montreal seasoning, roasted garlic, caramelized onion and mushroom jus.
Primanti Brothers, various locations
Love it or hate it — and there are those who do both — it’s Pittsburgh’s most iconic sandwich. In fact, you may not yet be an official Pittsburgher until you form a deep-rooted opinion on this sandwich, yea or nay, that you’re willing to defend. Yes, they put the fries inside the sandwich. More importantly, they use a terrific vinegary (no mayo) coleslaw and put that in the sandwich as well. My advice: For some reason, though the menu is limited, this tastes best after 11 p.m., several beers and/or at the ballpark.
Triangle Bar & Grill, Swissvale
Some places like to say they specialize in “submarine” sandwiches, or “subs.” This place cranks out Battleships and Destroyers. And if a sandwich that’s longer than your arm isn’t enough, try the Super Battleship: capicola, corned beef, pastrami — all the usual suspects are represented on one sandwich. If you’re going by size alone, this place on the way to Kennywood rules the waves. (They don’t really specify how big each one is. Just imagine the biggest hoagie you’ve ever seen, and then double it.) Getting nervous? If you don’t feel like ingesting an entire navy, try the Torpedo for $5.
Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, Strip District
Fans of barbecue and expert grilling will find a lot to like here, where everything is cooked over wood. Some of the world’s best beef is raised in Argentina, so it’s no surprise that steak takes center stage at Gaucho. You can get any of their steak specialties — flank steak, sirloin, ribeye, skirt steak — on a sandwich (Carne) with chimichurri, caramelized onions and grilled peppers. Surprisingly, there’s a good deal here for vegetarians as well, including the excellent Vegetale sandwich, stacked with roasted beets, grilled eggplant, goat cheese, pickled onions and arugula.
Spak Brothers, Garfield
Let’s give the vegetarians a little something for reading this far, okay? This Garfield mostly-pizza shop offers three different seitan sandwiches: the Seitan Melt (with Buffalo wing sauce), the Seitan “Cheese Steak” and the Seitan Pittsburgh “Steak.” All are packed with cheese, egg, peppers and mushrooms. The place takes vegetarian protein to places it rarely goes. (You can also get a first-rate Italian hoagie here, too, with meats from Parma Sausage in the Strip, as well as vegan options.)
Bluebird Kitchen, Downtown
One of our favorite spots Downtown (or anywhere), this breakfast/lunch place is chock-full of great things to eat, including sandwiches. The Pain Bagnat couldn’t be more delicious — Italian Yellowfin Tuna in oil with a salty olive tapenade, endive and oven-dried tomatoes on a crusty baguette. You can also get a fairly fancy Cuban sandwich stacked with Kurobuta pork belly, rosemary ham, Emmentaler, mustard and a house pickle on ciabatta. Then there’s the cheesy French classic Croque Monsieur, with Emmentaler, bechamel sauce and rosemary ham on brioche.