Vinegary coleslaw burned my nostrils as I choked down bread. This was the first time I tried the legendary Pittsburgh Primanti's sandwich -- the one with anchovies, of all options -- and I laid face down in it.
To clarify, my circumstance was not by choice. Racing in a scavenger hunt, the challenge required all competitors to finish a full, highly stacked ‘wich without the use of hands. I remember tasting nothing and being served water full of my fry-infused backwash. What a day to be alive!
The memory of this enormous, handless struggle stayed with me for many years. Three, to be exact. For three years, a chasm existed between me (a non-native) and the rest of Pittsburgh because of this damn sandwich. I held a shrouded secret -- that I didn't like Primanti's -- that if anyone knew, I'd be doomed to transient status forever. That is, until I had a second forced encounter with Primanti’s during a city-wide food tour.
I sat with friends and shared another of the restaurant’s staples: the a Pitts-burger, the alleged second-best selling item after Iron City Beer. Nose to sandwich with the thing, I sucked in my own pride, trading it with my civic duty. Humanely consuming the behemoth of Italian bread, coleslaw, fries, cheese, and meat patties, I finally understood what the hype was all about. This was Pittsburgh in a sandwich; each salty-acerbic bite anointing my tongue with residency. I felt like I officially lived here; I had been initiated. Sitting in the midst of Primanti's regulars munching on their own towering sandwiches, I couldn’t help but feel that I, too, belonged.