The New Pittsburgh Sandwich
by Adam Reger
I have been, nominally, a vegetarian for the last ten months. (“Nominally” meaning that I fall off the wagon with considerable frequency.) Of the sacrifices that decision has entailed, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
I’m talking about the sandwiches at Szmidt’s Old World Deli in the Greenfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
These are consistently among the best sandwiches I’ve had in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. Szmidt’s bakes its own bread and cures its own meat, the lion’s share of what makes their sandwiches so great (and I’m not the only one who thinks so: check out the reviews on Yelp and Urban Spoon).
Here’s their menu:
Some favorites include the Hoya (basically a Reuben), the Kanai (turkey with bacon, cheddar, and garlic mayo), the Emily (turkey, Swiss, and homemade slaw on rye bread), and the Doe Doe (turkey, Swiss, and cranberry vinaigrette on a homemade bun). Their “Cheezers”—grilled cheese sandwiches, basically—are pretty great as well.
(I’d have an even longer list of favorites except that even before going vegetarian, I made it a point not to eat so much red meat, which is why the turkey sandwiches are so heavily represented.)
But the thing that sets Szmidt’s apart, that makes them worth a blog post, is this sandwich of theirs called “The Rage.”
In a nutshell, The Rage is four pierogies, slapped on a homemade bun and topped with other delicious stuff: bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sauce. If that doesn’t sound quite delicious enough, there’s this: these are special, custom-made pierogies, stuffed with buffalo chicken (the “Buff”), southwest chicken (the “Sanchez”), and beef (the “Philly”). The “Pole-Lock” (formerly the “Pollock”; changed, you would assume, as a concession to general ethnic inclusiveness), is a regular potato pierogi.
I have to confess here I have not tried a Rage in this current four-pierogi iteration: the last time I had one, the sandwich consisted of a single giant, meat-stuffed pierogi with all that other stuff on top of it. There was something really novel and even a bit magical about biting into a sandwich that was built around a giant pierogi stuffed with meat.
Even so, I want to go public with an idea that occurred to me the very first time I bit into a Rage.
This should be the Pittsburgh Sandwich. Not the famous one everyone knows, that is sometimes talked about as if it were to Pittsburgh what the cheesesteak is to Philadelphia, the Chicago hot dog or deep-dish pizza is to Chicago, etc.; the sandwich that’s basically a hunk of meat with French fries and cole slaw piled on top, squeezed between bread; not the one that will give you indigestion for a day and a half, that’s probably only really good if you’re drunk. (I say “probably” because I’ve never had a good Primanti Brothers sandwich, but I’ve also never had one while drunk.)
Forget that other sandwich, and consider the possibilities of this one: Pittsburgh was built on the backs of steelworkers and mill hands who came from all the places across eastern Europe where the pierogi is a staple, where people could get excited about a potato dumpling on a nest of sauerkraut, with a little sour cream or some apple sauce to sweeten the whole package. We’re talking Poles, Slavs, Hunkies, Russkies, Ukies, Serbs, and plenty of others I’m probably missing. Why, this sandwich is nothing less than an homage to Pittsburgh’s culture!
And more than that, here are modern-day Pittsburghers doing something interesting with the pierogi, taking that heritage and reinventing it—just the way the city now is reinventing itself, shrugging off all the rust and depression and harnessing the arts, education, technology, and medicine.
Here’s a sandwich for the old Pittsburgh—and the new. A sandwich for the Pittsburgh of yesterday and the Pittsburgh of tomorrow; a sandwich that is authentically homemade; a sandwich that tastes good, and that can easily feed two, or make a lunch and a dinner. (This thing is huge.)
What does that other sandwich offer the soul of Pittsburgh? A day’s worth of starch? The sustenance to continue drinking long into the night? Bah! Begone, Primanti’s, you token of a bygone city.
You heard it here first: The Rage from Szmidt’s Old World Deli is the new Pittsburgh Sandwich.