Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh: Who's Is Better?

In a recent discussion with TheFoodTutor on eGullet, I discovered that not only had she been reading my blog, but that she was a transplanted northeast Ohioan now living down South. In an odd twist of fate, it turns out that she was working in the Flats area of Cleveland right around the same time that I was in college and frequenting the Flats on the weekends. Having read my post on my exciting weekend in Pittsburgh back in January and specifically my trip to Primanti Brothers, she inquired about the status of the Cleveland-based restaurant, Panini's.

When I asked her for more information, she informed me that Panini's does a sandwich very much in the same manner as Primanti Brothers: choose your protein and cheese and they will put fries and coleslaw on top. What?!? You mean I traveled all the way to Pittsburgh to try something that I could get literally in my backyard? Well, this was a challenge I just had to take. Especially because Panini's now has locations all over northeast Ohio (although they are still right above the Flats in Cleveland, too). And it just so happened that there was one between where I work and where I live.

So, after getting off of work, I hopped on over to the Panini's at Belden Village on Dressler Road and began to peruse the menu.

And guess what? It also happens that today is Thursday. Oh, man! $0.30 wings AND a sandwich? Too much to pass up. (I am such a sucker for wings ... it comes from my college days, unfortunately.)

Wanting to maximize my visit today, I decided to order six of the Spicy BBQ and six of the Chili Garlic (six is the minimum order for a specific flavor). I figured that if I had to take half my sandwich home for a snack later, so be it! After about 10 minutes, these arrived at my table:

On the left side are the Spicy BBQ. The right side are obviously the Chili Garlic. First, let's talk about the wings in general. They were good. Hot with nice crispy skin. Sometimes, when the skin is flabby (I'm speaking of other establishments, here), I will actually just remove as much of it as I can. First, because I am somehow deluding myself that I'm saving some fat and calories that way (probably not, but HEY, it's my fantasy here, so lay off, buster!). But probably more realistically, flabby skin is Just Not In.

But these were great wings. Nice and large. Crispy skin. Juicy inside. Yum. So, yeah, these got consumed, skin and meat.

These were the Spicy BBQ. It was a nice balance between sweet, heat, and smoke. I'd say about a 4 out of 10 on the spiciness scale. Spicy enough where you had to blow your nose by the time you finished them, but not so spicy that your nose was running halfway through and you couldn't smell a damn thing.

This is the Chili Garlic. These intrigued me a bit. These had just the barest hint of spice (maybe 2 out of 10). You definitely got both the chili and the garlic. But I kept thinking there was something else. What popped into my head at first was actually "peanut" or "sesame". And then it kind of reminded my of a teriyaki-type flavor. Which ALSO has sesame in it. I think that this particular flavor must have some toasted sesame seed oil in it as well. Unfortunately, the more of these wings that I ate, the more pronounced that flavor became, and the less intense the chili and garlic flavors became. They weren't bad, per se, just not great.

And finally, I decided on my sandwich. Now, you can get this in a "regular" size for $5.95 or the jumbo size for $7.95. I'm glad I got the regular size. After it came out, I asked my waitress how large the jumbo sandwich was and she indicated that it was HUGE.

This is a regular (and most similar in size to the sandwich served at Primanti Brothers):

I decided to get the corned beef version as that is the same kind I got at Primanti Brothers back in January. And, of course, the layered shot:

Ready to start eating? Okay, here we go.

Construction-wise, the sandwich at Panini's bears a VERY strong, if not identical structural resemblance to the one from Primanti Brothers (PB, for short). Even the bread is a similar quality Italian bread, in terms of crust and crumb. If you were to put a 1/2 sandwich from each place next to each other, you might not be able to tell them apart. The one characteristic of the sandwich that I do remember from my visit to PB is that the bread is a little more haphazardly sliced. Thick on one end and tapering off. The bread for the sandwich at Panini's was much more uniform. This isn't a criticism necessarily, just an observation.

Both sandwiches are WAY too large to fit into your mouth. As such, the "squeeze and shove" method must be employed to eat this. And even then, it's still a bit messy. The corned beef at Panini's was hot, juicy, and tender. I actually liked the fries a bit better at Panini's than PB. However, the coleslaw layer definitely goes to PB. It had a much nicer acidic profile which actually worked well to complement the natural fattiness of the corned beef. I tried the coleslaw on the Panini version both alone and integrated into the sandwich, and it just didn't have enough bite to stand up. At PB, the French fries were the weakest link. At Panini's, it was the coleslaw.

Of these two components, I feel that the coleslaw is the more important of the two and thus, in my view, the Primanti Brothers version is the better of the two sandwiches. MARGINALLY.

It comes down to this: will I hop in the car on a sunny Saturday afternoon and drive all the way to Pittsburgh for a Primanti Brothers sandwich? Damn straight, I would!

If I'm craving this sandwich on a weeknight and am on my way home from work, would I be absolutely happy stopping at a Panini's and picking up their version? Damn straight, I would!

As a complete aside, given how good the wings were and the fact that they offer these "overstuffed" sandwiches, what do I think of Panini's overall? I liked my experience. There is a lot more on the menu I didn't explore tonight, but I would be perfectly happy living in a world where all I ever ordered from their menu were these two items. After drinking a couple pints of cold beer, this is what I would order. They feel like "bar" food. The Chicken Pecan Cobb salad? Yeah, not so much.

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