Pittsburgh-style Cheesesteak

I personally think that foodies that have not been to Pittsburgh are missing out on some incredible stuff, from blue collar traditions to better imported foods than you can find in most other cities, especially at the prices you can get them in Pittsburgh.

My mom remarried when I was 11, to a man that was raised in Pittsburgh. Growing up, I wasn’t into the city much at all, though I didn’t turn down the food we got when we went there! Little did I realize how the place was becoming a part of me. Each time I go back, a couple of things happen. One is that memories come back to life. The Strip District changes here and there, but it remains the Strip District still. The city skyline still is a surprise when coming through the tunnels north into town at night. The first person still turns left when lights change, and people going the other way let them.

The other thing that happens is I make new memories. My wife and I enjoy going to the Strip District, and each trip is a bit different. We buy some of the same stuff to keep our pantry going at home, but we also try something different. We stay at different places, see parts of the area we haven’t seen before, or revisit areas we liked. This trip, we went to Phipps Conservatory, and they had an incredible Chihuly display. We also went to Fox Chapel to drive around, which is just a gorgeous town north of the city.

This last trip also brought a flat tire on I70, east of Cambridge, which meant we fought with AAA on the phone and ended up changing the tire with the help of Trooper Cunningham, at 11:30 PM, driving into the hotel on one of those weird spares. Unfortunately, we had to deal with getting new tires there, but we got a great deal on new ones, and we got to see yet another part of the area we’d not seen before, and I beat my wife at a video hunting game while we waited. We also fought with the VZ Navigator, Michelle, the voice on my phone that gives me directions. She wasn’t keeping up well, and I got kind of ticked off that she left me high and dry a couple of times when I needed directions.

One of the cool things about Pittsburgh is that the city seems very eastern US, but the people are more midwestern in attitude. The city used to be mostly blue collar, but that changed starting in the 80′s. The people keep the same feel as before, though, so it ends up being a very down-to-earth city. It’s very much a city of traditions more than one of trendiness.

I have to admit that I have spent a bit of time in Pittsburgh and never really understood the draw of Primanti Brothers. They’re known for their cheesesteak sandwiches, served differently than anywhere else I’ve had cheesesteak.


First, the bread is fresh Italian bread, sliced by hand on site. This part is good. The meat for the sandwich is cooked on a large griddle in plain view, and it’s a patty of some sort, not the sliced cheesesteak for which Philly is known. The cheese is added at the end of the cooking cycle, and it’s a good provolone cheese.Now here’s where it gets really odd, though… We have a cheesesteak with a patty, on sliced bread (that’s really fresh and good, by the way). It’s been topped with provolone cheese. Then cole slaw is added to the sandwich. The cole slaw is different than most as it’s vinegar based and the cabbage is shredded not chopped. Honestly, it’s a bit bland as cole slaw goes, but not bad.We’re not done yet. We have one more thing to put on the sandwich… French fries. Yes, I said the fries are on the sandwich, along with the cole slaw, cheese and steak patty, and topped with slice of tomato. That’s it. All the sandwiches get served that way unless otherwise requested. My wife doesn’t like her food to touch, so she had the sandwich deconstructed, with the slaw and fries on the side.


To go along with the college campus atmosphere, the employees were obviously mostly college students, along with several of the customers, and the place was in dire need of some cleaning. Very typical college campus style eating!

Back at our hotel, one of the employees asked how we liked Primanti Brothers. I had to stop and think for a second about why I never have gone there much, and I realized that it’s because it’s just not all that great. It’s different, and worth a try, if for no other reason than to say you’ve had a Pittsburgh Cheesecake at Primanti Brothers (with an Iron City beer). But the main reason I didn’t go there much when I was in school nearby was that I would have had to walk past the Original Hot Dog Shop to get there, and, to me, there’s no comparison… The O wins every time! Will I go again? Only if 1 of 2 things happens… If someone asks me to take them there or if there are no other local places to eat nearby.

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.


  1. Pittsburgh is a lovely city! I’ve been there a couple/few times. Its setting is amazing–the convergence of three rivers and the mountains make for beautiful views. And it’s got some great museums, always an important factor in my book, including the Warhol Museum. And you’re right about it having both an eastern and a midwestern feel, in the best way.

    The sandwich, on the other hand, just sounds strange.

  2. Terry, I went to school there, so I have a lot of memories tied to that, but I was never a huge fan of this sandwich. It’s worth trying just because it’s such a regional thing, and it’s really not bad, but I think the one thing that would improve it for me is to switch to strips of meat instead of the patty.

    My favorite museum there is Carnegie Institute, which was actually used as the dance school in the movie Flashdance. Right behind that is a great park and the Phipps Conservatory.

  3. I know this post is pretty old (its been forever since Chihuly was at Phipps) but how could you choose the O over Primanti’s? Looking at the picture, at least 75% of the sandwiches were under $6. No way you can walk out with O fries and a mediocre dog for less than $9 next door. I will concede that you can’t do Primanti’s more than once a week though. And I’m hoping you passed Primanti’s more than once in the other direction to get some half-priced Hemingways. Man, that little block in Oakland is one of the best places for cheap delicious food I have ever visited.

  4. Russell,

    I can appreciate your opinion, but I’ve just never fond Primanti Bros. all that good, and think that the O’s dogs are pretty good. It’s not a choice of economics, just one of preference. But that’s why both places have been open for so long!

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