The legend of Primanti Bros. and their original cart in the Strip District in the 1930's has been well documented – featured on no less than 5 Food Network programs the history of Joe Primanti and his hefty sandwiches loaded with fresh cut fries, sweet slaw, and plenty of toppings is perhaps the most legendary in the Pittsburgh dining scene. Driving up from Columbus early on a Monday morning we decided to kick off our trip with the legendary (albeit revised) original location – a small bar on 18th Street, at the heart of the Strip District. Arriving at 9am we arrived between breakfast and lunch and found easy free parking before making our way into the heavily wooded and entirely homey feeling bar.
Finding the location surprisingly empty (we were the only patrons) I was a bit put off as the two older ladies behind the register eyed us without saying a word. Making our way further into the restaurant and chuckling at the legendary Pittsburgh caricatures lining the walls I rather guessed that the 24-hour nature of Primanti Brothers had left us with employees at the beginning or end of a shift as it actually required a concerted effort to place an order. Not wanting to get filled up as we had a whole day of eating and museum hopping ahead of us we opted for a single sandwich and two “pops” to which our cashier stated “is that it?” almost incredulously.
Undeterred we sat down and waited while our sandwich was prepped, dressed, and brought to the table on white paper. By the time our sandwich had arrived another couple groups had entered the restaurant and our server’s mood began to soften – a little. Presented with a smile our Bacon, Egg, and Cheese sandwich was quite good. Thick yet yielding the white bread provided a great transport medium that stood up well to the sweet and savory slaw, crispy golden fries, salty bacon, creamy egg, and (honestly) somewhat underwhelming cheese. Divided amongst the three of us the sandwich was enough to get a taste of what the restaurant was all about and enough for me to say the food largely makes up for the service. Much like many “legendary” restaurants (Tony Packo’s, Central Grocery, etc) the food at Primanti’s isn’t going to blow your mind – but the setting, style, and experience are definitely something to witness when you’re visiting from out of town.
Making our way out of Primanti’s the next stop on our list was another stop well thought of by locals – Enrico Biscotti Company. Featuring house made, old school, all natural, hand cut Italian treats I rather expected to enter a large rustic space full off cakes, cookies, and confections – and to that end we most certainly weren’t disappointed. Greeted by a friendly young man as we watched two young ladies cut biscotti in the back I asked about a number of items that were not clearly marked and the three of us eventually settled on four separate options. Paying with credit (I was actually amazed how many spots in the Burgh were cash only) we made our way to the car and drove to the National Aviary where we’d enjoy the desserts while waiting for the exhibits to open.
Having heard great things about the Chocolate Ravioli I’d ordered one – or at least I thought I did. Taking a bite we’d clearly received the wrong order as the filling of the crisp and buttery shell yielded candied lemon peel. Tasty, sweet, but definitely not what I’d expected. Moving on to the next taste, a dish described as “Strawberry Soft Biscotti” we were yet again duped, but this time in a good way. Sweet and cakelike this “biscotti” was most certainly not Strawberry but instead a sweet and complex amalgam of maraschino cherry and pistachio. The best of our four options and also the most filling of the group I was quite happy with the biscotti while my mother and sister remained underwhelmed.
Moving on to our second pair of selections, the drier of the options, we started with the “Banana Walnut Biscotti.” Tasting minimally like banana, less like walnut, and mostly like a good sugar cookie all I can say is that it was nicely textured plain biscotti – I’m not sure if this was another mistake in our order or simply a lack of pronounced flavors. Following the biscotti was a “Blackberry drop” Scone – a sugary biscuit with lush pockets of butter and thick whole blackberries – it was excellent.
Throughout the rest of our visit to Pittsburgh we would see Enrico Biscotti at multiple markets, bakeries, and shops – clearly they are not hurting for fame or business, even if they are hurting for competent help at home base. While none of the items we had were bad, only the scone was more impressive than an average quality version of the same thing at any good bakery – perhaps we just went on a bad day or perhaps we ordered wrong…then again, perhaps we ordered right and just got the wrong thing?