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Oct 3, 2008 06:01 PM

What is Pittsburgh's Signature Dish?

I'm driving through and want to know whats the best of the best and where can I find it? Thanks Hounds.

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  1. that's a tall order without much detail to guide us. very generally speaking if you could "drive through" on a Saturday; hit the Strip District. You could do a DeLuca breakfast and a Primanti sandwich lunch with some Enrico Biscotti for the road along with La Prima Espresso. Or Mineo Pizza on Murray Ave in Squirrel Hill. it would help to know which day of the week and time of day and for how long. Enjoy

    1 Reply
    1. re: 42duffy

      Well what are the dishes though? Is it a sandwich fries and coleslaw? Is it creamed chipped beef? Is it a steak Pittsburgh style?

    2. Not sure if the headline/text is asking, "what are the local institutions", or, "what dish is Pittsburgh famous for". But I'll answer the latter: the "signature" foods are sadly disappearing, IMO. Probably the #1 food Pgh was known for was the pierogie, along with other Eastern/Northern Euro sausages and dishes. Hard to find those in many places these days as tastes changed and traditions have fallen by the wayside. But I'd give Bloomfield Bridge Tavern in Bloomfield a try if you want what's probably the best example of what's left:

      If you're here on a Saturday, the Bulgarian/Macedonian Center offers Soup Sega, an array of traditional soups from the Balkans which are quite good:

      Primantis, IMO, is more a gimmick than a signature dish. It's putting slaw and fries (and an optional fried egg) on top of a sandwich, nothing more. It's wildly popular and just about every visitor who comes to the city goes there, but the Primantis style sandwich was simply an invention for truckers to eat one-handed not a specific style of cooking or innovative use of ingredients.

      The best thing about Enrico's Biscotti (again, IMO) is Larry's lunches in the back, especially the beans and greens. But the storefront is worth a visit because you've probably never seen as many biscotti in one tiny storefront before (and the place always smells great). You can eat the biscotti at a standup table over at LaPrima with an espresso or cappuccino (for drip, tea or anything other than a small Italian coffee, go to 21st Street, which also has good espresso, but not LaPrima's old-school vibe, it's more a Seattle style coffee temple). And while you're on that block, Penn Macaroni has the best cheese counter between NY and Chicago.

      That's not to say that Pittsburgh lacks great dining experiences. But it's become like every other metro area in that what's new is hot and what's old is becoming extinct. The best of what's "new" are the places that feature local/regional ingredients in innovative preparations, like Legume, Bona Terra and others that have been mentioned in threads on that topic. You can add Nine on Nine to that list as Kevin Sousa has been known to do weird and wonderful things with local food (e.g. walleye wrapped in chicken skin!).

      Speaking of which, if you can find a place with fresh regional lake fish (also sadly disappearing from menus) like Virginia spots or walleye pike, do so. Doesn't matter if it's a traditional fish resto (Monterrey Bay) or a sushi spot (Soba), freshwater and regional can be exceptional in the right hands.

      Somebody else can take it from here... think I've said enough.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Panini Guy

        I'm LOL at the idea of perogis being a signature dish because that was my first thought, but I hesitated to say. If IRC you can get perogis on a pizza at the Church Brew Works (along with their great beers) and perogis on a Headwich at Fathead's (also an interesting selection of beers).

        Or you can get some perogis to take with you at Perogis Plus on Island Ave. And if you want the rustic effect, on Fridays you can scout up an eastern church that sells them. They have bubbas in the kitchen making perogis. You take them home and fry them in a skillet (cast iron) with butter and chopped onions.

      2. Ahh, Pittsburgh is sadly not recognized for it's great coloquial dishes and places! As stated by others, a true 'Burgh gastronomic tour is not complete without breakfast at DeLuca's on Smallman St. and then a Primante sandwich, to be washed down with an IC light, but there is more!! Also In the strip district, you need to go to Benkowitz for a fish sammich ('Burgh speak!) a great hot dog & fries at the "O" in Oakland (near Pitt) or at Wiener World which is dantahn ( more 'Burgh speak). For the really adventurous you can go out to North View to what I believe is the last existing Isaly's and get a "Chipped Ham Sandwich" Mmmmmm I am hungry now!!! Eat well, enjoy life!

        5 Replies
        1. re: RichieT

          Having been transplanted in the Burgh from Chicago about 12 years ago, here are some recurring items and some regional oddities/specialties. Start with stuffed banana peppers or fried zucchinni (Tambellinis used to have good zuke) as the appetizers are on every local, middle of the road restaurant. Follow it up with a cup of Wedding Soup that you can get at any Italian restaurant. Next would be some wings and not the traditional hot wings as you can venture off into garlic parm or some other exotic flavor. Having lived in upstate NY and coming from the Windy City, Burghers don't realize that there are really good wings here. Even if it is a gimick, you have to do the Primanti's as there are not many places in the country where you can get a fried bolgna and egg with fries and slaw on the snadwich. The huge fish sammiches, as noted above, are also very popular, and I like Benkowitz's and the one at Max's Allegheny Tavern. The Burgh also has really great seafood for a landlocked location as you can get great fish (fresh and saltwater) at Monterey Bay, Mitchell's, and the Grand Concourse, to name a few. Dessert would sadly have to be tiramosu. It is ubiquitous and pretty average. Throw some prosciutto and kielbasa in there somewhere, and you have a pretty good smattering of signature Burgh items, IMO.

          1. re: RichieT

            RichieT is right on the money! He offered every one of my suggestions. People tend to forget about Benkowits' and Wiener World (though if you're in the mood for a good dog, I think the "O" is your better bet).

            If you like pierogies - go with yayadave's suggestion of Perogis Plus!

            1. re: NoHun

              There is a better pierogie place in Moon Township in a strip mall by the entrance to Moon High School. Largish menu of Polish favorites. The pierogies are better than Pierogies Plus (or the local churches), plus they have at least five different types of pierogie...and they have goulash. I think it's called Forgotten Taste...something like that.

              1. re: carlheinz

                Yep, Forgotten Taste - Will try to get there on this weekend's visit to Pittsburgh.

              2. re: NoHun

                Hey, I'm actually a Philly guy (but a 300 lb. one!) and I get to the 'Burgh several times a year, and I obviously love to eat!. I'd also like to add to my 'Burgh food experience that I have yet to have better biscotti than Enrico's on Smallman. Expensive, yes, but...worth it! Question.. I have heard rumbling about a relatively new Pierogi joint in Mc Kees Rocks...
                Does anyone know anything about it? Going to be back there in early January, and there's nothing like good hot pierogies on a blustery snowy winter day in the 'Burgh!!!

            2. Panini Guy nailed it: pierogies. I've never had them anywhere that were as good as here. Churches everywhere have pierogie sales. In fact, my mom is at one right now making them, and I can't wait to visit tomorrow for Sunday dinner.

              Primanti Bros. is simply awful. It's a gimmick that caters to drunk people with no palates and no idea what good cuisine is. Every single time I had a visitor from out of town that insisted on eating there because of all the hype, it ended in disappointment.

              1. I'm not sure it's a signature dish, but as we've moved away from Pittsburgh, I've been reminded that while not Chicago or NYC, Pittsburgh has truly good pizza. In addition to Mineo's which someone has already recommended, Aiello's (it's neighbor) is pretty good. I grew up on Vincent's Pizza (the original on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills) and it's my impression of what good pizza is. There's also a place just south of the tunnels whose name escapes me but which had fantastic pizza years ago.

                I also miss the Battleship from the Triangle Bar in Rankin; it's not really "Pittsburgh", though. It's more Philly. Most of the time in Pittsburgh, you'll get a toasted/warmed Italian hoagie; the Triangle's is served cold. But, when we come home this spring to meet our new niece or nephew, I'm going to go to the bar in the ghetto and get myself a hoagie.

                Those two things are always on my list, along with a Primanti's fried bologna sandwich. While I agree that it isn't "cuisine", the nostalgia brings me back. And I actually really like it. Most of the out-of-towners we've introduced to Primanti's have loved it, and nearly all of them are restaurant industry folks, so I think the panning is not a universal opinion, although I admit that there are a lot of Pittsburgh folks who do feel that way...

                One thing that I believe to be truly Pittsburgh, is the tendency to put french fries on salad greens with cheddar cheese. Not something I ate often when I lived there, but I have been known to order a steak salad and a side of fries in a mediocr restaurant. I don't know if they still do it, but you could get a great "Pittsburgh" Steak Salad at the Union Grill in Oakland about ten years ago. Not fancy, but good eats.

                I really can't speak to the upscale food scene in Pittsburgh; we've been gone for too long. My husband is a chef and eating is pretty much our hobby. Years ago we enjoyed the Round Room at the Hyeholde, had a fantastic meal at Bellini in Shadyside, and had the best sushi we've had outside of NYC at Umi. Last time we visited we had dinner at Eleven, and while it was good, it wasn't great - and I'd been prepared for it to be great...

                9 Replies
                1. re: geecka

                  <Primanti Bros. is simply awful. It's a gimmick that caters to drunk people with no palates and no idea what good cuisine is. Every single time I had a visitor from out of town that insisted on eating there because of all the hype, it ended in disappointment.>

                  Thank you for posting that.. I said that in another thread and got lotsa of angry replies.

                  Of course there are the folks that think the Olive Garden is fine Italian dining.

                  I would say Pittsburgh is mainly known for their ethnic food. Being part Pole, I am partial to the hunkey handgrenades (stuffed cabbage), pierogi's and haluski.

                  I've never been there but heard they have good stuff at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern.

                  1. re: burghgal

                    Hell yes to the stuffed cabbage (halupki) and halushki !!!!! I am a good fraction hunkey myself, and will come running at even the hint of those in the air. The only I've had were my grandmother's, my mom's, and those from the old women at our old church on the north side. I'll have to check out the Tavern when I'm back sometime.

                    Good call!

                    1. re: burghgal

                      <Primanti Bros. is simply awful. It's a gimmick that caters to drunk people with no palates and no idea what good cuisine is. Every single time I had a visitor from out of town that insisted on eating there because of all the hype, it ended in disappointment.>
                      C'mon.. Isn't that a little strong and judgemental? Just because you & few others find unfavorably for Primanti .. you are far from the majority, and that statement is just NASTY. Coloquial food is what it is, and it ain't Haute Cuisine.. and Primanti is what it is. In reality.. Pierogies are Nasty.. but.. they're good. So are Philly soft pretzels.. same thing, I can keep going on. Not trying to flame you. Just letting you know that many of us
                      don't like to be referred to as having no palate. Perhaps we have DIVERSE palates!

                      1. re: RichieT

                        I wish it weren't so, but it really is that bad. I don't know anyone in Pittsburgh - personally - who enjoys it, and I've never had a visitor enjoy it. I wish it weren't so, but yes, unfortunately it is that bad. The last time I took my girlfriend there, because she wanted something "different" and "Pittsburgh" she got pissed at me for thinking that she would enjoy it. And her palate is quite diverse.

                        On a positive note, because I'm really not always so negative, anyone could make a clone - albeit much tastier - by purchasing a loaf of Mancini's bread from pretty much anywhere, buy or make some fresh vinegar-based slaw, and buy some QUALITY meats and cheese from your usual deli. Maybe a few extra condiments to taste. Done.

                        1. re: Bomberman760

                          I'm not a big fan of Primanti's but it has its place. It's where just about everyone we host from out of town wants to go and most have enjoyed it.

                          Funny thing about your comment - it's the Mancini bread they use that I think is the single worst part of a Primantis sandwich. As a non-native, I've never understood the appeal of Mancinis bread.

                          1. re: Panini Guy

                            Do you know anywhere to find good bread in the Pittsburgh area?

                            1. re: johnnytang24


                              Whole Foods carries most of their breads, they also have a small retail outlet adjacent to their bakery, located in an industrial park.

                              1. re: johnnytang24

                                I haven't lived in Pgh in about 7 years, but I still dream about the goodness of breadworks bread. Crusty outside, a bit chewy inside. The last time I was home I got a Mancini's pepperoni roll on the street in the Strip that was pretty tasty.

                              2. re: Panini Guy

                                The Primanti Brother's thing would be so much better if they used better quality ingredients. I have been there 4-5 times (I'm from Johnstown). The beef is nasty the fries are usually burned, and the cole slaw is bland. The bread is good though. I have seen other places do this thing better.