National Geographic : 2003 Aug
Early one morning at Primanti Brothers, in the middle of Pittsburgh's Strip Dis trict, Antonia Corradetti is constructing a sand wich so big it would make Dagwood blanch. A fixture behind the long diner counter, she flips a wad of just grilled corned beef onto a thick slice of Italian bread. Then, yanking a basket of oil-dripping french fries directly from the deep fryer, she plunges her bare hand into the heap, extracts a fistful of steaming potatoes, and smashes them on top of the beef, so you can hear the sizzle when the smoking spuds greet the meat. Surprised there is no echoing sizzle com ing from Corradetti's hand, I'm ready to dial 911, but she seems indif ferent to her five-finger fire walk. "I've only been doing this for 28 years," she says with a shrug, in a strong Italian accent. "Ican do a thousand of these an hour." But the pain? "Well the first time I did it, it was kinda hot, but the grill is a good conditioner." Corradetti laughs, holding out beautifully manicured hands as soft as a baby's cheek. Locals call Corradetti's literal handiwork the official Strip sandwich not just because others have copied it but because it mirrors the district's own history. Dating back to 1933, when the Strip was still the exclusive turf of wholesalers delivering produce out of mammoth brick warehouses, the sandwich was aimed at a fail-proof market. For the truckers who were Strip royalty, nothing tasted better than the meat-and-potatoes meal they could hold in one big hand, while they steered with the other. Now the sandwich is consumed mostly by late-night clubbers, but it When dusk falls, the Strip transforms from daytime food emporium into all night playground. As cafes and clubs come alive, revelers vie for parking and bar space. A 3 a.m. crowd packs Primanti Brothers (above), where muscular sandwiches are served 24-7.