I fully realize this is the time of year for Top 10 lists of all sorts–I spent this morning poring over Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2006, Must Reads from Salon, and Bob Mondello’s film picks. And believe me when I say I intended to share with you, dear readers, my favorites of 2006–the best meal I cooked, restaurant I visited, hard-to-find-ingredient I snatched up, guy to cook for, co-workers to blog with, etc. Since my ambitions outstrip my time and I’m afraid my memory isn’t always great, I offer instead the best of my recent holiday vacation in Greensburg and Pittsburgh, where I spent a blissful if overfull (in every sense) week of catching up with friends and spending time w/ family. Inevitably these activities centered around food and drink. Remarkably, I cooked only once during the week–a spicy Thai grilled beef sald and spring rolls w/ peanut sauce (thanks, Josh!) for my family on Christmas Eve which ended up delicious, in spite of a mean hangover and worse sleep deprivation.
Even though we had fabulous, contemporary meals at Eleven and the Red Room, my favorite eating experience was an early evening dinner with Michael at Primanti Brothers in the Strip District, an old shipping district now dotted with nightclubs, biker bars, and restaurants–yet remains an active wholesale grocery and restaurant supply neighborhood. (Legend has it that my great grandfather, Meyer Kimball, was a grocer there in the 30s.)
Primanti’s is a ‘burgh establishment, where people yell at but are never impolite to each other. It’s always busy and always open. We grabbed two seats at the bar, ordered two Yuenglings, 2 sandwiches (cheesesteak for her, pastrami for him), 1 chili, and pickles. (I was impressed with Michael’s appetite, as I often am, when we went to karaoke later in the night and he had to have an order buffalo chicken wings.) The Primanti Brothers schtick is that they place french fries and coleslaw directly on the sandwich. The fries are goddamned perfect, and the slaw doesn’t know anything about mayonnaise: it’s mild and crunchy and vinegary, and I wish every sandwich were accompanied by this condiment. (MUCH better than boring lettuce and tomato.) The sandwiches are just sort of tossed at you on deli paper–even red plastic baskets would be too pretentious for this place. I have no idea if this is true, but it’s the kind of food I imagine steel and dock workers would have appreciated–hearty, greasy, generous, and utilitarian.