Ex-Pittsburghers take the food with them when they move


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While some ex-Pittsburghers sit around missing their favorite 'Burgh foods, others roll up their sleeves and export those foods to their new homes all over the country. Here are three Pittsburgh-food businesses that aren't anywhere near Pittsburgh.

Giuseppi's Pizza, Suburban Washington, D.C.

Scott Feldman worked at Aiello's Pizza in Squirrel Hill while attending Taylor Allderdice High School. Aiello's also was his summer job when he was in college at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

After college, he wanted to go into the pizza business for himself, so Giuseppe "Joe" Aiello himself took Mr. Feldman under his wing.

"He taught me how to prepare everything -- the dough, the sauce -- and to my knowledge, I'm the only one he taught.

"He brought me in, showed me everything and swore me to secrecy."

Mr. Feldman spent eight years running three pizzerias in California before deciding to move back East.

He and his mom, Sue, chose the Washington, D.C., area because "the economy is always strong" and because he'd been told that a million displaced Pittsburghers lived in the city. He figured he also could count on the transplants from New York and New Jersey who had grown up with little neighborhood pizzerias similar to Pittsburgh's.

One of the first things Mr. Feldman and his mom did when they moved into the D.C. area was to ask the locals where they went for pizza, and then visit those places.

There were delivery chains and "brick-fired individual gourmet pizza" places, Mr. Feldman said, but nothing in between.

They had their niche.

They moved into a Rockville, Md., storefront 22 years ago, stuck Steelers and Pirates gear up on the walls, named their shop "Giuseppi's" after Mr. Aiello, and started cranking out Aiello's-style pies.

"I copied theirs exactly. I figure if they've been there for so long [since 1967], they're doing something right."

The Feldmans opened a second store in Gaithersburg, Md., 12 years ago.

"On the weekends, this place will be half-filled with Pittsburghers," Mr. Feldman said.

But on football season weekends, he is more likely to be back home in Pittsburgh. He, his dad and brother have Steelers season tickets.

Steel City Sandwich Truck, Los Angeles

Four years ago, Taylor Funkhouser and Neil Shuman moved from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and couldn't find a pierogi to save their lives.

Mr. Shuman, a graduate of Pittsburgh's Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts, started cooking up Pittsburgh-style grub for their friends -- and found that West Coasters liked it as much as they did.

An idea was born.

Ms. Funkhouser, who studied theater at Point Park University, went to work on the business end while Mr. Shuman fine-tuned the menu, using her grandmother's pierogi recipe as a linchpin. The duo now operate the Steel City Sandwich Truck, serving Los Angeles neighborhoods.

And yes, they put the fries and slaw on the sandwich. In fact, they refuse (politely) to serve them on the side.

"Sammies" on the menu include The Yinzer (a choice of lunch meats with the requisite toppings), The Steel Curtain (several different meats glommed together), The California Transplant (sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, Swiss, fries, slaw and tomatoes), The Myron Yolk (egg sandwich, of course), and Oh My Cod (Iron City beer-battered fish with the fixins).

The side-dish menu, too, reads like a Pittsburgh hall of fame: pierogies, fried zucchini, loaded salad (with fries on top), and "pop (since we can't serve beer)."

The company's humorous website, steelcitysandwich.com, even has a guide to Pittsburghese, presumably so those born and bred in L.A. can translate the menu.

The duo claims the slaw-and-fries-on-the-sandwich tradition started because Pittsburgh steelworkers had short lunch breaks, but this could be urban legend.

Ms. Funkhouser planned and saved money for two years before starting up the truck 10 months ago. She works every shift, both prep (done on the truck, a fully certified kitchen) and serving, and meets Pittsburghers every day.

"You wouldn't imagine how many people from Pennsylvania and Ohio are out here," the Mount Washington native said. And while her Pennsylvania, Ohio, Chicago and sometimes New York-born customers know what a pierogi is, "no one else has any idea."

Primanti's, Ft. Lauderdale area

Speaking of exporting the fries-and-slaw-topped sandwich, the restaurant chain that does it most famously, Primanti Bros., opened three locations in the Ft. Lauderdale area, back in 1995 -- even before the suburban Primanti's started here.

Eric Kozlowski waited tables on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift at the Strip District Primanti's in the '80s. He got an accounting degree from Penn State and kept pestering Primanti's owner Jim Patrinos to let him open a Primanti's in State College, but they never were able to buy property there.

So Mr. Kozlowski took an accounting job in Florida and thought the rest was history -- until Mr. Patrinos and his friend Nick Nicholas went to Ft. Lauderdale on vacation.

Mr. Patrinos and Mr. Nicholas saw a pizza place they thought had Primanti's potential. So Mr. Patrinos called up Mr. Kozlowski and said, "Hey, this guy says he'll sell to us. If you quit your job, we'll do this store right now. If not, I'm going home."

What's a guy to do?

"I walked in to my boss and said, 'I quit,'" said Mr. Kozlowski, laughing.

Mr. Patrinos, Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Nicholas were equal partners in the first Florida Primanti's, which expanded into three separate locations in Broward County. Mr. Nicholas eventually sold his share in the restaurants, leaving Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Patrinos equal partners, with Mr. Kozlowski continuing to live in Florida and run those three shops.

Primanti's pizza actually started in Florida. They decided to keep the beachfront location a pizzeria because slices are an easy food to carry, but they make the sandwiches there, too.

Mr. Kozlowski says he meets "tons of people from Pittsburgh," including snowbirds who want to get their Primanti's fix year-round. He's met ex-Pittsburghers who drive as far as three hours from Orlando for a sandwich.

They've got Pittsburgh sports memorabilia all over the walls and show Steelers games on satellite TV on the weekends, and they even truck down Iron City beer to go with those "sammies."

Mr. Kozlowski grew up in Baldwin Borough. His dad drove a truck for Gimbel's Department Store.

food

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com.


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