Only Pittsburgh Could Make Me Speak Out Against French Fries

By Matthew Yglesias

I. Love. French fries. When I first read Michael Pollan assert that his pet slogan “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” was the answer “to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy” I had this brief fantasy of shifting to an all-fries diet. Then I realized that Pollan is just mistaken. One time I took a train to Belgium on a whim (it helps to already be in France) and discovered to my delight an entire culture based on fries and beer.

That said, Pittsburgh has taken things too far. Not only does the fries-on-sandwich schtick not at all redeem the desperately mediocre Pimtanti sandwiches that PGHers seem to love, but I saw this on a menu my first night in town:

saladfries 1

This is madness. I kind of wish it was madness I could blame Pollan for; maybe he’s unleashed a wave of mass insanity in western Pennsylvania such that people now believe that all relatively unprocessed plant matter is healthy. But frankly, I kind of doubt it. Either way, though, he should pay a visit to Pittsburgh and perhaps grow to appreciate the need for some complexity and nuance and nutritional advice.


28 responses to “Only Pittsburgh Could Make Me Speak Out Against French Fries

  1. Took me a minute to see what the issue was…grilled tuna salad sounds nice! But topped with fries? Not so much. Although I will say I had a salad at Smith and Wollensky’s in New York once that had fries mixed in….that’s what I get for ordering salad at a steakhouse I suppose.

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  4. RoboticGhost

    This phenomenon is something I have never understood. And, frankly, I don’t know a soul that regularly eats fries on anything weird but Primanti’s. And yet local eateries insist on trying to capitalize on Primanti’s relative fame by putting fries where they do not belong. One thankfully defunct pizza joint put fries on a pizza. It was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen. The Sarah Palin of food offerings. Now that Pittsburgh is shaking its short-guy syndrome, maybe we can pay more attention to what Kevin Sousa ( is doing and less to what Primanti’s has done to death.

  5. forwearemany

    Once when I was in France, they had a “Sandwich American” which was a baguette with fries and BBQ sauce.

    Also, in the UK, a plate of chips is a main course to a lot of people; I hadn’t realized that until I lived there. So it’s your dream come true!

  6. Eh, there’s a “buffalo chicken pizza” variant in Pittsburgh where they throw some kind of thick, spiced french fry on top of it. Perfectta, Parma and most of the Oakland delivery places do it. Yinzers seriously think that the french fry is a condiment.

    This could be *tolerable* if it was possible to find decent french fries in Pittsburgh, but apart from a moules place in Shadyside, it just isn’t the case. “O” fries are tolerable, and I think the grease has a sort of addictive quality, but the majority of the fries are limp, soggy, pallid things.

  7. All steak salads in the Pittsburgh area (which includes northen WV, ask John Cole) come with fries. I find them delicious. The nice thing about fires is that they can be removed by plucking, for the skittish.

  8. Ds in Regent Square has excellent fries. And they put them on salads, but I think in their case it is understandable.

  9. I don’t know where you were getting your fries, Matt, but you obviously didn’t go to any of the many places here that have very high quality fries and, yes, delicious with anything. And I say this as a person who really isn’t fond of ANY fried foods (rare exceptions). If I like the fries somewhere, they are good. The O’s are pretty good, but not the best. The best are always in some prototypical ‘Burgh neighborhood bar where someone hand cuts every fry and they are double fried in peanut oil. It’s a place that’s been owned by the same family for 2 or 3 or 4 generations and they have it down to a science. They cook and sling beers for their neighbor, generally blue collar and often ethnic. But great fries and fried fish are specialties in all of them. There is a place five blocks from me like that. When I want fries (alone or as a topping for something else), that’s where I go.

  10. Skip Primanti Bros. Go to Southside and check out FatHeads and get the Southside slopes sandwich with pierogies on top.

  11. I just got back from a meeting in Ann Arbor, where I had the hamburger at Grizzly’s.

    It has french fries for buns.

    OK, giant latkes really, but what is a latke except a bunch of stuck together fries?

    Evil genius.

  12. “Also, in the UK, a plate of chips is a main course to a lot of people; I hadn’t realized that until I lived there. So it’s your dream come true!”

    Vacationing in Australia this summer, I was on a resort island with very mediocre food. A family of four from France (at least, they spoke French) sat down at the next table and proceeded to devour 4 large bowls of fries. By the time they were done, each bowl had about a half-inch pool of ketchup. It was disgusting. That was all they had, too.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love me some fries. But that’s taking things too far.

  13. Primanti Brothers isn’t actually very popular among locals. It is pretty much a Monday Night Football phenomenon. In fact, when I read the title to this post I thought “Oh, Matt went to the O. That would have been a more interesting experience for both of us, but would have required a bus ride to Oakland for you.

  14. D’s fries are battered. That’s up there with presumption and despair among the unforgiveable sins.

  15. Yep, D’s fries are battered. They are also extremely tasty, as I guess is often the case with sin.

  16. Besides fries in salads one other “specialty” of Pittsburgh is the Fish Sandwich. In the basic form it is one or two huge slabs of deep fried fish which should be too big for the bun. It can be enjoyed plain or with some tater or hot sauce. Fancier versions may include cole slaw or french fries in the bun.

  17. Please don’t ever eat at FatHeads. It’s “casual American dining” in a bar, nothing you can’t get at Appleby’s or whatever, but with more drunk college kids. It’s not even stereotypical Pittsburgh cuisine if that’s what you’re looking for.

  18. “Well, I stuck to my diet; I didn’t order steak and fries–I ordered a salad!” :)

  19. I’m a native ‘Burgher and have never been anywhere with that many salads with fries — what restaurant was that? It is a Pittsburgh tradition to put fries on steak salads, I was actually disappointed the first time I ordered a steak salad somewhere else that did not have fries. It morphed into most grilled chicken salads in the area come with fries as well. But I’ve never seen “all salads topped with fries” before. You know you can always order a salad without the fries…

    It’s a local quirk…

  20. Fries on that? Well, next time you are in Belgium, check out one of these:

  21. I live in the burgh and have found the following line very useful:

    “Can I have the fries on the side, please?”

    Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

  22. I’m a native ‘Burgher and have never been anywhere with that many salads with fries — what restaurant was that?

    My guess is that it is a room service menu from a hotel. My first experience with Pittsburgh “steak salad” was at a Holiday Inn but I can’t find a menu online.

  23. I greatly enjoy D’s fries (yes they are battered, and YES they are damn good) but I have to argue that Silky’s fries (Squirrel Hill and now Bloomfield) are some of the best in the city. Hand cut on a nasty looking machine in the basement, cold-soaked for a while, double fried and then seasoned — give me a Penn Dark and a basket of fries and I am happy.

  24. Sorry but I love Primanti’s sandwiches. I’m ready to drive across PA right now to get a corned beef. I also love the fries on the steak salads and agree that the Burgh does fish sandwiches like nowhere else.

  25. About 35 years ago I worked in Fall River, MA (home of Lizzie Borden). The first time some of my co-workers and I went out for a Chinese lunch, I was astounded to see fries routinely served along with the fried rice or lo mein on every one of the lunch combo plates.

    And inevitably, the locals put soy sauce or duck sauce on the rice, and vinegar on the fries.

    I have no idea if this still goes on. It didn’t appeal to me then, and the memory does nothing much for me now.

  26. The Pittsburgh fries-on-salads phenomenon extends as far east as State College, but probably not much farther.

    At least at Mr. C’s fries are just an added option on the salads, not a given. But whatever you do, don’t scroll down to the fat sandwiches. Don’t.

    I’ve had the Grizzly steak sandwich in Ann Arbor on the potato pancakes and it is one of the best food-items-called-a-sandwich-but-not-actually-a-sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

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