Maybe you heard that Steel City Sandwich has joined up with the bajillion other food trucks that roll around Los Angeles everyday. And maybe you didn't care. Why should you? As Angelenos, is Pittsburgh food supposed to be exciting to us? Really, what's next? The Baked Alaska truck? Iowa food on wheels? In other words, where is the line? Perhaps all major food themes have been addressed and now they're simply getting random and ridiculous.
And maybe so, but this writer is a Pittsburgh native and was overjoyed to hear her favorite sandwiches had made it to the west coast. And if you're a lover of food as well as its history and how it's shaped our culture, you potentially may be too.
The specialty of the Steel City Sandwich truck is the same as the city of Pittsburgh's, which is famous for being the home of Primanti Bros. restaurants. Primanti's sandwiches are made up of a thick layer of usually cheap meat, such as pastrami or capicola, topped with tomato — and then the kicker — french fries and cole slaw. Those two typical sandwich sides don't sit on the plate, but rather hang out between the slices of bread with everything else.
This sounds like a gut-buster, and of course, delicious. Check mark on both counts. But these sandwiches weren't made this way for the sake of gluttony.
As Steel City Sandwich explains on its website, Pittsburgh is a blue collar town, founded on the sweat of its workers. Particularly during the Great Depression, they needed a fast and filling lunch to get them through the rest of their very long workdays. Food cart-turned-restaurant owner Joe Primanti began slapping the fries and slaw on top of the sandwiches as a way to hand the workers an entire meal in a neat package that they could eat quickly, and without silverware. It was a primitive form of fast food, in a way, that's endured through the decades and remains popular today. Primanti Bros., which still serves sandwiches this way, often has lines around the block that can take hours to get through.
So buying a sandwich like this out of a truck and eating it on the curb seems quite appropriate.
“Better than Primanti's,” the truck workers said as they handed out sandwiches at The Truck Stop last night. Well, that's not not quite true, but they're darn close. Something tells us the owners, Pittsburgh kids Taylor Funkhouser and Neil Shuman, would feel disloyal one-upping Primanti's anyway.
The truck also serves homemade pierogies, another specialty of the region, as well as Jennie Craig Fries topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and herb aioli (see the irony there?) and Loaded Salad, which consists of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheddar, french fries dumped right in and, as the menu says, “LOTS of ranch dressing.” It's with shame this writer confirms that in Pittsburgh, this salad is standard.
You could get the meatless California Transplant with portobello mushrooms and avocado, but we'd say don't if you want the full experience. Steel City Sandwich serves Rust Belt food, yes. But the cuisine is more than that. It represented ingenuity during the Depression, and was integral to a working class culture. How fitting that it makes its debut in L.A. during this difficult economy, and a street food boom.