How do you get to Carnegie Deli?
Right -- practice, practice, practice making sandwiches. Wesley Ross has been making them for 30 years, at diners and kitchens across Pittsburgh. Two months ago, he and a co-worker at the Bellevue Diner, Heather Harper, opened their own Downtown sandwich spot in the lobby of the opulent, 114-year old Bank Tower.
As for a name, they figured Carnegie's was big enough to share. After all, his name is synonymous with libraries, halls, philanthropy and academia in both Pittsburgh and New York -- yet only the Big Apple is known to have a deli bearing the world's best-known industrial surname, the world famous Carnegie Deli, a Seventh Avenue landmark that serves up foot-high pastrami sandwiches.
Unhinge your jaw, as they say.
At Pittsburgh's Fourth Avenue version -- the Carnegie Delicatessen & Catering -- the sandwiches aren't quite so imposing, but they remain formidable, not to mention delectable. Naturally, Munch sampled "The Carnegie" ($10.95), basically a reuben without the sauerkraut -- pastrami, Swiss and Russian dressing on rye.
The deli, on its menu, bows in the direction of its Jewish forebears; the matzo ball soup ("Jewish Penicillin," $3.25 for a small) is a winner here, a single, dense dumpling swimming in a mild chicken broth. Good on any day, but especially warm comfort on a stupidly cold mid-April afternoon.
This a Pittsburgh deli, too, so, of course, there is Italian wedding soup on the menu, plus sammies with localized names: Check out the Bloomfield Italian Beef (juicy house-seasoned roast beef, sliced and topped with jardiniere and melted provolone on ciabatta, $10.95), and the Homewood Happiness (slow-cooked brisket with barbecue sauce and cheddar on brioche, $9.95).
Munch also packed away a tangy red-skin potato salad, while Friend of Munch indulged in the so-called "Country French" salad (bibb lettuce, apple slices, walnuts, grapes and a chicken breast tossed in a champagne vinaigrette, $9.75) and came away impressed.
First-time visitor? They'll even give you a free baked dessert, a chocolate chip cookie or a brownie. As with its Manhattan counterpart, they also offer cheesecake on the menu, and as a pathological cheesecake junkie (among countless other foodstuff addictions), Munch be back to try a slice, or two, or ... heck, just give me the whole pie tin.
Go for the sandwiches, but stay for the architecture. The space, carved into a century-old bank, had previously been home to a coffee shop, but installing a full kitchen was another animal altogether.
So they improvised. The vault was turned into the kitchen. A small room where bank customers once examined the contents of their safety-deposit boxes is now used for an office. And a small lunch counter, with seating for four or five, was installed against the bank of tall windows that look out onto Fourth Avenue.
Carnegie said "every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something." True enough, and even though the Downtown food scene is as good and as deep as it's ever been, sometimes all you want is a solid sandwich. Pittsburgh is not awash in delis as New York is, but it is awash in solid sandwich spots. It now has one more.
Carnegie Delicatessen and Catering is at 307 Fourth Ave., Downtown; 412-281-2254; carnegiedelidiner.com.