Pittsburgh loves French fries so much that we eat them with everything from gravy to cheese sauce to big fat sandwiches.
Enter the Pittsburgh Salad: In its purest form, a steak salad loaded with fries.
Those new to town might raise their eyebrows at the idea. But before long, they, too, acknowledge that salty crunchy fries add texture, flavor and heartiness to a cold, bare salad. The layer of greens and chopped vegetables topped with cheese is a nice beginning. Adding hot fries and grilled steak pulls it all together in a delicious melty mess of tantalizing satisfaction.
Some nutritionists might debate the healthiness of such a dish. But can’t we agree to the idea of all things in moderation?
According to folklore, the Pittsburgh salad first appeared on Western Pennsylvania menus in the early 1960s. Debatable claims to its creation come from Jerry’s Curb Service in Bridgewater and Hilltop Grill in Rochester. Or maybe it was a natural progression to a less carb-heavy Primanti’s sandwich.
Since then, many cooks have adapted the salad by switching out ingredients. Tots might replace fries. Salmon, chicken or shrimp can stand in for the steak. Seasoning, dressing and a wealth of other ingredients contribute to the mathematical possibilities that can be combined in a Pittsburgh Salad.
While you are likely to find one on the menu of most neighborhood pubs, these Pittsburgh Salads elevate the experience.
The Urban Tap, South Side and Shadyside
The Urban Tap takes the “tap” part of its name seriously. The lineup of 140-some taps over its two locations includes local and imported drafts, wine, cider and even a cold brew coffee. Urban Tap’s food menu veers to trendy with dishes like Orange Miso Poke, General Tso’s Cauliflower and free-range Bison Burgers. Salads range from Burrata & Kale to Grilled Pear and the Classic Caesar.
You’ll find a Pittsburgh Salad, too, under the name Steak & Greens. Peppered filet tips are the protein, served over mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, Danish blue cheese and herbed ranch dressing. The magic touch comes from the house tots. These perfect potato cubes are formed from grated potatoes with a crunch on the outside and delicately delicious insides. It’s worth ordering extra as a side dish.
Stack’d Custom Burgers & Craft Beer, multiple locations
Stack’d is known for its build-your-own burgers. Order from a checklist of nine proteins, eight breads and cheeses, plus 40 toppings that include fun stuff like mac and cheese, grilled pineapple and peanut butter.
Salads require less brainwork beyond choosing the dressing. There’s a California Cobb, Berry Walnut and Greek Salad. Two others meet the qualifications of Pittsburgh salads. Both the Buffalo Chicken and the Grilled Chicken (plain or Cajun) include mixed greens, cool cucumbers and tomatoes with hot crispy fries over grated cheese.
We cheer for the Buffalo version. The breaded and fried chicken breast is tossed in a zesty buffalo sauce, then sliced into bite-sized pieces. Blue cheese dressing ties it all together.
Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill, 4601 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield
The home for some of our favorite steaks and stacked gourmet burgers, Tessaro’s American Bar & Hardwood Grill is a leader in the Pittsburgh salad category, too. The Bloomfield institution has been satisfying our more carnivorous appetites for decades. Its Pittsburgh-style salad continues that gastronomic tradition.
Your Steak Salad order begins with a request of how you’d like your New York strip steak grilled. A medium-rare steak arrives from the kitchen with the perfect balance of pink in the middle to fragrant char on the edge. Sliced into big chunks, the steak is set atop mixed greens, grilled onions and mushrooms. The potatoes here are deliciously crunchy, dark-fried home fries. Pimentos add a touch of extra color and flavor.
Sunny Jim’s Tavern, 255 Camp Horne Road, Kilbuck
Sunny Jim’s Tavern has been in operation since 1934, with the current owners running the show for more than 40 years. Renovations and expansion of the original building, kitchen and menu keep customers showing up for great grub. Graze through shareable apps like stuffed banana peppers, Buffalo chicken dip and flatbreads. Classic, made-from-scratch eats go from hoagies and signature 10-ounce burgers to Turkey Devonshire and the Giant Fish Sandwich.