It's all in there at the Pittsburgh tradition called Primanti Brothers: A hunk of grilled meat and cheese with french fries, tomatoes and coleslaw mashed between slices of fresh Italian bread.
It's all in there at the Pittsburgh tradition called Primanti Brothers: A hunk of grilled meat and cheese with french fries, tomatoes and coleslaw mashed between slices of fresh Italian bread.
Primanti Brothers

In Pittsburgh, Nosh Around the Clock

La Prima Espresso Co., a little taste of Naples.
La Prima Espresso Co., a little taste of Naples. (La Prima Espresso Co.)
Sunday, April 15, 2007

In Pittsburgh's Strip District, it's a hand-to-mouth existence. Wholesale grocers and importers between 11th and 22nd streets, a 10-minute walk from center city, hand off their freshest finds to eateries right next door. From shot-and-a-beer to chichi, you can nosh your way along Penn Avenue 24/7, dodging street vendors by day and clubgoers by night. Jive-by-night dance clubs spring up and wither like mushrooms, but century-old family businesses in brick warehouses keep the Strip scene authentic and irreverent.

Whether you need a whoopee cushion, a four-course meal, fresh biscotti or a full-size inflatable Steeler, this is the place to hit.

Here are a few choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

6 a.m.-noon

Before dawn, trucks are growling, chefs are prowling and the Strip is at fever pitch. For a classic diner meal, go the bilious-green storefront that is DeLuca's, the self-proclaimed best breakfast in the 'Burgh, for hearty eggs and home fries. ("Gravy, hon?" the waitress asks. She's offering a steaming lake on a mountain of crisp potatoes. Say yes). The line for a $3.99 platter moves fast under a bizarre Greek mural.

Or go continental at La Prima. Sam Patti's bustling stand-up espresso bar, scented with roasted beans, serves toothsome cream puffs and biscotti from nearby Enrico's. (The fresh muffins come from Carla Branduzzi at Il Picolo Forno next door.) Sweaty cyclists in neon jerseys alongside dapper old gents arguing in silk suits -- this is as close as Pittsburgh gets to Naples.

DeLuca's Restaurant, 2015 Penn Ave., 412-566-2195. Open daily. Breakfast from $2.99. La Prima Espresso Co., 205 21st St., 412-281-1922, Open daily. Biscotti, $1.25 each.

Noon-6 p.m.

Street food around Cafe Richard includes vendors with grilled chicken skewers, hot dogs and the tiny deli's elegant specialties, consumed at outside tables. Owner Richard Deshantz serves soup, salad and sandwiches here, then moves downtown to offer dinner at his upscale Nine on Nine. Cafe choices like pan bagnat with tender tuna and capers, creamy prosciutto and brie, and smoked salmon and honey mustard combos are standouts. So are the fresh-baked fruit tarts.

Make a mini-meal of samples from the Strip's family merchants. At the cheese counter at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., founded in 1902, the countermen do stand-up alongside the salami. "I feel like I'm at Mass," cracks one as he doles bread chunks dipped in tangy balsamic vinegar directly into customers' mouths. Mon Aimee Chocolate offers an inspired dessert: a steaming, chili-spiked treat from its hot chocolate bar, at the back of a retail store with artisanal and imported confections.

Lunchtime segues into dinner at Kaya to a reggae beat. This Caribbean-themed restaurant faces the old Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit and Vegetable Auction and Sales building, the heart of the wholesale district, but the mahogany decor, wooden masks and menu provide its voodoo vibe. The bold pulled pork and jerked chicken are flanked by outstanding vegetarian choices procured locally, like the beignet with green curry creme fraiche for dipping. Kaya offers 25 varieties of island rum, along with Sortilege, a whiskey and maple syrup liqueur.

Cafe Richard, 2103 Penn Ave., 412-281-4670. Open for lunch only; closed Sunday and Monday. Sandwiches and salads, $5 to $7.

Kaya, 2000 Smallman St., 412-261-6565, Open for lunch and dinner daily. Lunch selections, $8 to $15; dinner entrees, $8 to $25.

Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., 2010-2012 Penn Ave., 412-471-8330, Closed Sundays. One pound of traditional Italian Gaeta olives, $5.99. Mon Aimee Chocolate, 2101 Penn Ave., 412-395-0022. Hot chocolate, $1.99.

6 p.m.-11 p.m.

By the 19th-century ice warehouse retrofitted as the city's history museum lounges the Strip's sleekest bistro. Eleven, an elegant sister restaurant to Kaya, echoes the owners' devotion to local farm ingredients in a serene two-level setting with hushed banquettes and perfect service. Chef Derek Stevens's contemporary tasting menu specializes in tender western Pennsylvania lamb and pairs offerings with international vintages. A tavern menu offers a lobster roll and roasted duck salad; apple crumble pie with cheese or Meyer lemon creme brulee are among the dessert stars. Eleven should be a 15 -- it's four-star dining.

Eleven, 1150 Smallman St., 412-201-5656, Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily. Dinner entrees, $18 to $43.

11 p.m.-6 a.m.

Primanti Brothers is the anti-Eleven: noisy, greasy and equally beloved. Originally a middle-of-the-night lunch spot for truckers, this noisy wooden cafe's signature sandwich is a 'Burgh icon downed by Teamsters, waiters and post-clubbers in need of a midnight munch. The hunk of grilled meat and cheese is slid across the counter with french fries, tomatoes and coleslaw mashed between slices of fresh Italian bread on a sheet of waxed paper. A fried egg is optional. Just don't eat the paper.

Primanti Brothers, 46 18th St., 412-263-2142, Open 24 hours. Sandwiches from $4.99.

-- Christine H. O'Toole

© 2007 The Washington Post Company