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Pittsburgher: french fries inside sandwich?

  • d

I recently had a interesting sandwich in San Francisco (at Magnolia Pub & Brewery in the Haight) called "The Pittsburgher" and wondered if this is a sandwich common in Pittsburgh, etc. or why it might be called "Pittsburgher". It had cappicola and salami with melted provolone, french fries, cole slaw and tomato on pugliese bread (yes, cole slaw and french fries actually inside of the sandwich) -- sounded so odd that I had to order it. It was pretty good, but I wound up picking some of the french fries out to balance it. Anyone else have experience with french fries inside sandwiches? Why Pittsburgher? Local whimsy?

Deb H.

Link: http://www.magnoliapub.com/food.html

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  1. A former roommate of mine took me to a sandwich shop in Pittsburgh (Primanti's, I think) that's famous for making sandwiches with fries and coleslaw on them. I enjoyed the food, but I did wind up picking fries out of the sandwich because, like Deb, I felt it lacked balance. My friend claims that they kick you out or something similarly draconian if you ask for things on the side instead of on the sandwich, but I didn't get to witness this.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Lauren

      I was similarly underwhelmed by the sandwich at Primanti's. Glad I ate it...once.

    2. in smaller towns in france they have these trailers that park in the square or by the train station late at night and sell street food, like pizza. one of the best things they have are sandwiches filled with meat and french fries. they split a half baguette (and you literally can't find a bad baguette in france) and fill it with grilled chicken (poulet-frites), beef (steack-frites), or merguez, a spicy lamb sausage. they'll put wonderful mustard on them or ketchup. then they wrap it in foil and...that's a hell of a sandwich.

      7 Replies
      1. re: emily
        Caitlin McGrath

        Surely you jest. I had gathered from previous posts that you lived in France for some time, so I'm surprised you buy into this apparently cherished myth. Or maybe you were really lucky. I've only spent about a week in France--in Paris, a year ago--and while I didn't buy a lot of boulangerie baguettes, I ate a lot of bistro meals where I was invariably served a baguette. And there were a surprising number of bad ones: tasteless, cottony, not-worth-one's-time baguettes. Keeping in mind that these were all relatively inexpensive meals, I found it interesting that there was no positive correlation between price or quality of food in general at these places and the quality of the bread. It was a crapshoot.

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          hmm. the bistro baguette is not going to be your best source for good bread, i don't think. i too was served some yucky, yucky food when i visited paris for a couple of weeks. but i was surprised because i hadn't really been disappointed before.

          i lived in eastern france for about a year-and-a-half as a student. my memory is probably colored by nostalgia, but i don't remember any truly bad bread, or even any blah bread, come to think of it. i didn't eat in restaurants a lot. i cooked for myself or ate street food. you could get awful, american-style bread, but there would only be one tiny loaf at the grocery store and it would cost $5.

          the paris thing might have something to do with it. bad food purveyors in big cities can subsist on one-timers and tourists; in smaller towns, if your bread is bad there's a better boulangerie down the street and you'll go out of business. but i really think there's a cultural identification with the baguette; it would be unfrench to not be serious about making bread. i mean, even the biggest, most impersonal supermarket has its own boulangerie, and the guys selling hot dogs on the street stuff them into impaled crusty baguettes.

          so i'll revise: it's very difficult to find a bad baguette in france if you know where to look, and even if you don't you're probably going to be pretty lucky.

          1. re: emily
            Caitlin McGrath

            To be sure, there are wonderful baguettes all over Paris and I did eat some of them, but learned not to expect them in a bistro (though I had good ones in bistros, too, if not stellar), even if the food was delish. (And BTW, some of the bad-bread places were full of Parisians and not tourists.) So I don't know, probably the inevitable decline of civilization. I just thought your "literally" was a bit too...literal!

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I did a pretty exhaustive survey of Parisian baguettes last year -- at least 35 bakeries -- and I can testify that mediocre baguettes far outnumber the great ones. Certainly, the bread at the best New York bakeries (although not necessarily the baguettes) is up to the level of all but the very best half-dozen or so Parisian bakeries.

              Although one bite of the goods at, say, Kayser, or the Poujaran-descended places out in the 20th is enough to persuade anyone that a truly great baguette is worth the hunt.

              1. re: Pepper
                Caitlin Wheeler

                When I was living in Paris last summer, a boulangerie faced our courtyard. The smell of the bread baking was amazing, and the taste of a warm baguette ... ooohhh. I think it got 3rd place or something in the baguette contest. FYI it's on the Rue de Charenton, just off the Dugommier metro stop (I think at 225 Rue de Charenton)

          2. re: Caitlin McGrath
            Caitlin McGrath

            I did *not* do even a cursory survey of Parisian boulengeries for baguettes, and know I did not experience the city's best bread. But I didn't have a baguette there, nor have I found one in NY, that I found as good as the everyday output of Acme in Berkeley, which I consumed regularly when I lived there.

          3. re: emily
            yvonne johnson

            and across the channel, in england and scotland ( probably elsewhere in UK too) french fry sandwiches made with buttered white, soft bread are pretty common. Preferably, chip-shop chips. really yummy. but some find the whole mess too mushy. Poor substitutes are made with potato chips...yup the cold, crinkly things out of bags. i admit i quite like these, made with salt and vinegar chips. but the bread must be better than wonderbread!

          4. Was the restaurant near Carnegie Mellon? There is a sandwich shoppe in Penn State's Happy Valley that does the same french fry trick. I was wondering if it was a College thing?

            1. Chowhounders on a tight budget can get a french fry po-boy in New Orleans. I haven't tried one, but if a place (say, R&O) makes a good roast beef po-boy the french fry po-boy (which should be drenched with liberal amounts of brown gravy) should be pretty tasty.

              I think I have also heard of some place in the Midwest where the french fries are served inside the sandwich. It might be in Roadfood.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Bob W.

                Wonderful memories of the one Horseshoe I ever ate, a specialty of Springfield Illinois.

                A hamburger on toast with a pile of frenchfries on top all covered with cheese sauce. Awesome...

                Has anyone else ever heard of a Horseshoe or eaten one? Am I remembering it right.


                1. re: Laurel

                  Oh Laurel -- you brought tears to my eyes! I spent 6 long months in Springfield, and the only redeeming factor was the Horseshoe! All Springfield restaurants sell the HOrseshoe, from diner to "fancy". Everyone bragged about their cheese sauce. Some places even had a smaller version called the Ponyshoe. I get to S'field about once a year, and I always, always have a ponyshoe. But as a teenager, I would have the full horseshoe and a shake for lunch three or four times a week. Sigh...

                  1. re: Marie


                    Wow! you are the only person I've ever mentioned it to who has ever heard of a horseshoe. And yes, I think it was a ponyshoe I actually ate, so very long ago. One ponyshoe 20+ years ago, indelibly etched in the tastebud memory.

                    Now why don't I ever make a horseshoe at home in New Jersey? since it doesn't look like Springfield Illinois is anywhere in my future? hmmm, it's a concept...

              2. I've learned something. I had no idea these even had a name, much less ever appeared on a menu.
                Fries on a bun is a fundamental Middle School cafeteria survival technique (for those young chowhounds who never fail to inspect the pre-formed meat patties). I even have a digital photo of one on file, sorry I can't figure out how to add it to the bottom of the post.

                1. When I was in Israel 20 years ago they would typically put french fries in falafel. An excellent addition, for some reason.

                  1. Folks I know from Pittsburgh are awfully enamored of their french fry sandwiches. I tried one while there at a sandwich shop in a warehouse district by one of the rivers (can't remember the name) which was famous for them. It was fine, but nothing special. In my mind, the french fry sandwich is one of a host of midwestern specialties (including Cincinnati chili and St. Louis fried ravioli) which just aren't that special.

                    On another note, I love a good, Memphis style barbeque chop sandwich, which includes cole slaw in the sandwich, though fries are strictly on the side.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: SKU

                      It is a Pitt thing. They love their french fry sandwhichs and chicken wings.

                    2. In Paris, I had a merguez (Tunisian sausage) sandwich that had french fries in the roll along with the sausage. It was OK....no sauce that I can remember.

                      1. In the UK, we have a delicacy know as the "chip butty". This must be made from chips (i.e fries) from the fish and chip shop doused liberaly with tomato ketchup sandwiched between white processed bread spread with lots of butter. It's very good for you! An inferior version can be fashioned from oven chips, but its just not the same.

                        A variation of this is the crisp sandwich, which consists of potato crisps (potato chips) in white processed bread. My father once nearly choked to death whilst driving on a bit of crisp sandwhich that got stuck in his throat. I was in the passanger seat at the time so was relieved he survived.

                        Speaking of the delights of the fish and chip shop, don't get me started on mushy pea fritters!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Andy Lynes

                          The chip butty brings me back to my ten years in London. I first learned about them from my flatmate, Pat, who'd moved down from the Birmingham area. My first response was "ugh"--but such is the cultural pull of a place if you live there long enough--that within a few years, they seemed better and better.

                          However, the crisp butty was too dry for me. (And after reading about your father's near-date with destiny....I think I'll stick to the chip version.)

                          1. re: Andy Lynes

                            Hi Andy L. -

                            Your post about the crisp sandwich compelled me to grab one of my favorite cookbooks in the whole wide world - "White Trash Cooking", by Ernest Matthew Mickler. (Purchased from Amazon.com).

                            In this amazing cookbook, Ernie Mickler chronicles the (sometimes) simple, amazing recipes favored by the wonderful, live-while-you-can-die-when-you-do, folk from the southern U.S.

                            In his book, he includes an actual recipe for a "Potato Chip Sandwich". I shall now alter the recipe enough to protect the Big Dogs from copyright infringement:

                            1 slice of white bread
                            1 slice of white bread
                            A bunch of stuff to make mayonnaise, (if you already have a prepared jar of this exotic condiment in your cold box, you can use it. )
                            1-2 un-peeled potatoes, thinly sliced.
                            Oil for frying.

                            Heat oil. When it is hot enough to blister your finger, drop in potatoes. Fry until golden brown.
                            If the frying method isn't preferred, just buy a bag of "potato chips".
                            [Disclaimer: DO NOT STICK YOUR FINGER IN THE HOT OIL!!! You will get burned. It will hurt. You will need to go to a hospital. You will need to pay a deductible.]

                            Generously apply the condiment made from eggs and oil across the the first slice of bread. Repeat the process for the second slice of bread.

                            Onto the first slice of bread, on top of the creamy white condiment, manually introduce the cooked potatoes, (fresh, or bagged) until maximum latitudinal placement is achieved.

                            Onto the top of said tuber structure, apply the second slice of baked wheat dough, (condiment side down). With steady, but constant, downward pressure, reduce them spuds 'til they ain't nothing but crumbs.

                            Serve with the the number one competitor of the largest selling cola beverage company in the world.

                            It seems that your father, and my father, enjoyed the same culinary fare.


                            1. re: Andy P.

                              Hi Andy, I have to admit to being uninspired by the discussion of fries in sandwiches, but with the segue to potato chips, you can count me in! I went to high school in North Florida with that very Mickler family. I too have Ernie's cookbook. From that long ago period of my life I remember two favorites that often appeared in my lunch bag: tuna salad on soft white bread with potato chips mashed in (still do this occasionally!) and sliced banana, mayo, smooshed chips on white bread. By lunch time the bananas didn't look too appetizing, but still tasted very good. pat

                              1. re: pat hammond

                                Hi Pat,

                                Even though I am now an IMOTW (Intl. Man Of The World [LOL]), one of my favorite sandwiches EVER is Skippy smooth peanut butter, and Welch's Grape Jelly, with an obscene pile of Lay's potato chips shmooshed in between the layers. Having been a big fan of chunky PB, and a victim of elementary school orthodontia, the potato chips gave me a chance to experience the "crunch" of the bite, without stepping upon all the seemingly draconian dietary rules set forth by the orthodontist.

                                BTW, I made one of my favorite recipes from Ernie's "White Trash Cooking, Vol. 2, Recipes for Gatherin's", for my Japanese staff. It was "Hillie's Lemon Chess Pie". The kids in my office now think I graduated from the C.I.A.!! Such an simple pie recipe, with amazing results!. These days, one doesn't find a lot of pie recipies that include corn meal, but this one does the trick!!


                          2. In Athens (Greece) I was served a souvlaki that had french fries inside it. I thought it was pretty good. But in the states I have never encountered such a thing (save my own creations). Generally, I think french fries go well inside sandwiches. The crispiness (which slowly changes into a nicely textured paste as the french fry cools and becomes moist) is a good way to break up many a dull sandwich.

                            1. In belgium, we have a sandwich called a Mitraillette (machine gun! heh) that is basically any meat that is founf in the Friterie (pitta, merguez, andalouse, boulette, brochettes... etc) on a baguette with a choice of sauces and lots of frites.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Belge Punk

                                Belge Punk - speaking of Friterie - A friend of mine has a t-shirt that says "la reine des friteries"; I think this means "queen of the fryers" literally, but that seems kind of silly for a t-shirt; do you know if this is some kind of idiomatic or slang expression for something else?

                                1. re: magnolia

                                  Sounds like a great name for a french fry shop to me.

                                  1. re: ironmom

                                    I used to live in belgium; this has to be the best sandwich ever

                                    I miss it a lot

                              2. k
                                koula goughnour

                                ok people,lol
                                After reading all guessing about the fries on a sandwich, I must explain.
                                It started in a restaurant in the strip district called Primanti Brothers. Truckers would have to eat and run get their time in. So you choose your meat and they put in between two slices of thick cut Italian bread, add fresh cut fries and a vinegarette cole slaw wrapped in paper. They can eat it quickly onthe run! Now its the rage around here.
                                I own a pizza shop and made a variation of it.
                                A sub bun baked with melted cheeses and creamy cole slaw. WE sell tons ofthe steak ones.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: koula goughnour

                                  A creative solution to truckers' chow needs--and I didn't know this till you posted. Thanks!

                                2. If you are in Detroit you have to go to bucharest grill!!!!!!!!!! Get the bucharest shwarma...it has fries in it and it is HEAVENLY.

                                  1. Deb H., the "Pittsburgher" sandwich you had in San Francisco at the Magnolia Pub & Brewery is, indeed, a take on a style of sandwich originally created at Primanti Bros. restaurant in the Strip District of Pittsburgh.

                                    A Primanti's sandwich consists of meat, provolone, french fries, vinegar-based coleslaw and tomato slices all between two thick slices of Italian bread. The traditional meat offerings consist of cheesesteak, which is actually similar to a hamburger patty, capicola, ham, salami, hot sausage, sweet sausage, turkey, bologna (called "Jumbo" here), sardines, bacon, kolbassi, knockwurst, corned beef, pastrami, tuna, fish, roast beef, chicken, cheese or eggs. The bread is from a local bakery called Mancini's.

                                    Others on these boards will surely disagree with me, but I think a capicola and egg (ordered as "cap'n egg") from Primanti's is one of the greatest culinary achievements and gastronomic delights in the history of mankind. Otherwise, the typical deli lunchmeat offerings - pastrami, corned beef, ham, roast beef, salami and jumbo, are my favorites.

                                    As described upthread, the sandwich was developed in the 1930's as a handheld meal for truckers delivering meat, seafood and produce to the Strip District, which served as the main grocery depot for the city. Because deliveries would often occur at all hours, the original restaurant stayed open 24-hours and still does to this day.

                                    Owing to the popularity of the sandwich, Primanti's has developed into a regional chain, with a number of outlets in various parts of the city as well as the suburbs and towns around Pittsburgh. There are locations in both our football and baseball stadiums, and there are even a few locations around Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

                                    While many of the locations have expanded their menus and have more of a typical casual-restaurant feel, the original location stands on tradition. Late in the evening, after the bars and clubs have closed it is not unusual to find an assortment of truckers, service workers, off-duty police, strippers and general revelers commiserating over sandwiches and IC Lights.

                                    Also, as implied upthread, they are not fond of substitutions or requests for sandwich components to be left out or served on the side. In fact, I had family in town just this past week, and I always take out-of-towners to Primanti's. Anyway, some of our party requested no slaw, fries on the side, no tomato, etc. I was accordingly chastised for my guests behavior: "Whaddya doin', bringin' these jabroni's in here? There's a McDonald's right up the street." Of course, it's all in good fun, and they honored all of the various requests.

                                    Primanti's is a Pittsburgh original, an institution and one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I consider myself lucky to live within a twenty minute walk of no less than 4 Primanti's locations, including the original.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MonMauler

                                      Don't forget about our salads with fries on there too! Bishops Pizza in Carrick puts curly fries on their steak pizza, and is excellent.

                                      My favorites are either double Cap and egg or double pastrami and egg. The egg and Red Devil hot sauce make it. The cheesesteak one is God awful though! Just a hamburger patty, which was the first one I got as a kid. I'm glad I decided to try a different one or else I'd have never went back.

                                      The best part is that they're easy to make at home if you're not able to get to Pgh. The hardest thing is getting the slaw right.