Dish of the Week: The Primanti Bros. “Almost Famous” Sandwich

Yes, you do want your side of fries stuffed onto your sandwich.
Yes, you do want your side of fries stuffed onto your sandwich.
Photo by Britt Reints

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing a sandwich made famous at a Pittsburgh sandwich shop: The Primanti Bros. “Almost Famous” Sandwich.

Originating in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this signature style of sandwich – dubbed the “Almost Famous” sandwich – consists of two thick slices of Italian bread that get overstuffed with your choice of meat and cheese, tomatoes, tart and crunchy coleslaw, and a more than generous heap of hot, fresh-cut fries. The sandwich sultans are known to pile in everything from turkey, capicola and pastrami to eggs, hot sausage and fried fish.

The shop’s history dates back to the 1930s, when Joe Primanti sold his colossal sandwiches to hungry truckers from a pushcart in Pittsburgh's Strip District. But here’s the important part: After much success and the opening of a small storefront, one of those truckers came in with a load of potatoes. He wanted to see if they were frozen, so he gave a few to Primanti, who fried 'em up and put them on a sandwich at a customer's request. 

Primanti Bros. changed forever that day, as its famous sandwich was born. Today, the chain has 17 locations around Pittsburgh, with more in Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. Since it hasn’t made its way to Texas, we’ll have to make our own version.

This recipe, from Lidia’s Italy in America, makes a bigger-than-your-mouth grilled capicola and provolone sandwich that will keep you just as satisfied as those truckers. For extra oomph, add a fried egg.

Primanti Bros. “Almost Famous” Sandwich

Ingredients serves 2 
3 cups very finely shredded Savoy cabbage
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 small russet potatoes
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 ounces capicola, sliced
4 ounces provolone, sliced
4 thick slices Italian bread (ideally, about 6 by 4 inches, not too crusty)
1 ripe tomato, sliced


Toss together the cabbage, vinegar, olive oil, celery seed, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Let the slaw sit and the flavors mingle while you make the fries.

Cut unpeeled potatoes into sticks about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. The oil is ready when the tip of a potato really sizzles on contact. Carefully slide the potatoes into the oil to fry over moderate heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until crisp, golden brown and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Don't let the fries brown too quickly! (They might remain raw on the inside and burned on the outside if they are cooked too fast.) Drain on paper towels, and season with salt.

Heat another large skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, sear the sliced capicola until crisped on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove skillet from heat, and make two stacks of capicola on a side plate, laying the sliced provolone on top, to get it started melting while you assemble the sandwiches.

To assemble, lay two slices of bread on your work surface. Top with the capicola and melted cheese. Top with the fries, slaw and sliced tomatoes.Top with the remaining bread, cut in half and serve immediately.

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