For the Western Pennsylvania transplants in the area, the new Primanti Bros. location in York is a throwback to the nostalgic taste of late nights in Pittsburgh.
A concert or Penguins game wasn’t the same in Pittsburgh if you didn’t stop at Primanti Bros. afterwards. The colossal sandwiches containing your choice of meat, coleslaw, provolone cheese and hand-cut french fries between two pieces of fresh Italian bread might not be the pinnacle of excitement for the night, but it was always a joyous reward.
For me, it represents the initiation into guy’s night as a young kid. Staying up late and stealing swigs of I.C. Light from my dad or uncle while talking about the game and chomping down my kielbasa and cheese “almost famous” sandwich. Like the giant stride of my elders, everything gets smaller as you grow up; you learn to clean your plate at suppertime.
The one object that doesn’t change as the years pass is the size of this classic sandwich. It took cutting it in half and all my weight to smoosh it down small enough to take a bite as a kid. It still takes cutting it in half and all my weight to smoosh it down small enough today.
According to the York location’s manager, Will Bowker, the spot has been well received by the community. At the grand opening there were about 140 people in line waiting to get in. Primanti Bros. gave away a sandwich a week to the first 100 customers. People were literally camping out in tents around the parking lot.
“A lot of locals have ties to Pittsburgh,” Bowker says. “There are so many Primanti experts comparing this one to the original.”
The York location is unique for the traditionally Pittsburgh-based eatery. It doesn’t have the same city-sandwich-shop feel. (It still offers I.C. Light, along with a variety of craft and domestic alternatives.) The restaurant feels more like a tavern or sports bar; the walls are lined with TVs, as well as local flair representing Harley-Davidson and Hershey’s Chocolate. It wouldn’t be a Primanti Bros. without sports memorabilia, though, and that is especially unique to the York location.
York is about 45 miles from Baltimore and a couple hours away from Philadelphia. Of course, the walls are lined with predominantly Pittsburgh junk, but you also see the Orioles, Ravens, 76ers and Eagles popping up through the collage.
The atmosphere is intense but not intimidating. The York location even offers an indoor/outdoor patio with a large gas fireplace. Between the staff, the fans (Primanti Bros. refers to its customers as “fans”) and the classic rock, there is a constant barrage of noise.
Primanti Bros. offers 24 beers on tap on a mirrored tap system containing mostly standards with a few well-known craft options, as well as a list of cocktails. If you decide to sit on the deck, I suggest ordering the Drunken Duck. It’s a giant goblet of bluish-green cocktail made from rum and pineapple juice, and it tastes like the Caribbean in a glass. Topped with a little rubber duck, it’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s not exactly the fancy craft cocktail you might find at other establishments, but it’s unique. For an authentic experience, order an I.C. Light with your massive sandwich.
While most of the food comes out of the back kitchen, the “almost famous” sandwiches are made on the grill at the bar. If you’ve ever been to a Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, you know that – most of the time – your bartender also makes the sandwiches.
The menu is filled with good, heavy, American bar-style favorites like hand-stretched pizza (served in enormous slices) and “soon to be famous” wings. The flatbreads looked fantastic, and several fellow customers told me the milkshakes are authentic to the classic days of the soda jerk.
My recommendation, though, is to order one of those classic sandwiches. And get it just the way it comes – it’s not the same if you get the coleslaw or fries on the side.
Seriously, just try it.
• 2151 South Queen Street, York
• Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.