I failed to post something last week because a miserable ailment had just started taking over my head and neck while I was visiting friends in Pittsburgh. After a six-hour visit to the fantastic Fallingwater, I realized that what felt like an irritation in the back of my throat that morning while taking the plane ride to Pittsburgh had blown up into an awful stabbing feeling when I swallowed. Aw, crap. How was I going to have a pierogi on kielbasa sandwich for dinner if my throat wasn't functioning? Never mind that an oncoming fever was making my earlobes feel like hot coals.
I've been harboring an interest in Pittsburgh's food-on-top-of-food sandwiches since, oh, 2007. My friends Claire and Seth were good enough not only to host my weekend visit and drive me all the way out to Fallingwater but also, knowing my food interests, to take me to Primanti Brothers for their famous cole-slaw-and-fries-on-top-of-various-meats-sandwiches. We went to their original location in the Strip District, where I got to see impressive amounts of paraphernalia and tchotchkes devoted to Pittsburgh's sports franchises being sold nearby, as well as the awesome murals inside Primanti's devoted to local heroes, including Mr. Rogers, whom I admire deeply (in a totally non-ironic way).
I ordered the hot sausage and cheese sandwich, Seth got the kolbassi and cheese, and Claire got the bacon and cheese (and egg?). The sandwiches are pretty enormous and come out wrapped in wax paper, no bothering with plates here. The bread is thick cut white bread which has zero flavor and seems there mostly as a means for holding the sandwiches' innards intact; Seth's recommendation to hold the sandwich so that the bread slices are perpendicular to the table surface works, because the bread has no strength to support the weight of all the ingredients.
Overall, I found the sandwich sadly disappointing. The bread had no flavor, the cheese had no flavor or simply didn't exist, and the fries - what I thought would make this sandwich divine - had no flavor either. Of the steak fries variety of cut, they weren't crispy on the outside, which would have provided textural contrast, and added nothing but heft and driness. The cole slaw, on the other hand, was surprisingly good - crisp, of the vinegary (not mayo) variety, which worked for this sandwich, and speckled with lots of black pepper. I would have been happy eating the hot Italian sausage with just a side of the cole slaw, which means that this sandwich, while conceptually brilliant, failed for me in its execution. But, maybe I'll give it one more try (I'll be back in Pittsburgh for work) and go for the kolbassi version.
Back to a chronological order of events: Primanti's for lunch, a 2 hour drive to Fallingwater in the Bear Run Nature Reserve, a 2 hour tour, a 2 hour drive back, then dinner at the Penn Brewery, where my failing health makes it hard for me to enjoy my kielbasa and sauerkraut, but does not prevent me from judging that their pierogies, while nice, are not the best the city has to offer. I'm in bed by 9 with what feels like a raging fever, and get out of bed at 11 the next morning feeling, huh, not too bad.
If I have not mentioned what lovely hosts Claire and Seth are, here are two other examples: 1) they make waffles for brunch (after waiting for me to haul my ass out of bed) and let me drink all their OJ, and 2) knowing my food interests, they suggest that we can pick up a late lunch at Station Street Hot Dogs. I am intrigued by the Devil Dog, which I don't think I can get back home, where I'm pretty sure I can get a kim chee dog.
The Devil Dog has egg salad, Tabasco, scallions, and potato chips on top of an all-beef dog. I love a good devilled egg, and this sounds like a great picnic basket of ingredients that got smashed up in an accident. So Claire takes me to Station Street after we run errands at the nearby Target; she tells me about the changes in the neighborhood and points out Google's nearby office* as we wait for our orders of dogs and duck fat fries. We're the only ones there at 2pm-ish, but Claire tells me this place can get pretty overrun.
Verdict on the Devil Dog: thumbs up. I should have realized, though, that the potato chips, like the duck fat fries, would have lost a bit of their crisp on the ride back, sealed up and steaming in the take out sack. Lacking the potato chip crunch, though, hasn't really harmed the dog. The egg salad's good, although I would have added more hot sauce, and the hot dog itself is very flavorful. Excellent combo - next time I would just add that extra hot sauce and maybe, just maybe, a little sprinkling of celery seed. As for duck fat fries, am I right in thinking that they're overrated? Maybe I just prefer lard.
Maybe I should have put those fries on top of the hot dog.
* I find out later that a friend from my urban planning days was at that very same moment in the Google building hearing about Pittsburgh's revitalization. I had posted to Twitter via Foursquare that I was at Station Street; he saw that and responded that he was in Pittsburgh, too. Interesting.