Baltimore's notorious rivalry with Pittsburgh doesn't end on the football field. Now, the cities are also being pitted against each other in the restaurant arena.

Zagat recently rated Steel City as this year's No. 1 top food city in the country. Charm City came in second place, rubbing salt into a wounded football season.


On the eve of the Ravens-Steelers mash-up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, I was curious about Primanti Brothers, the legendary Pittsburgh sandwich shop that opened its first Maryland restaurant in Hagerstown in November. Would its gargantuan sandwich, piled high with meat, cheese, French fries and coleslaw, live up to all the hype or was it like a listless Terrible Towel after a loss?

I headed to Western Maryland to find out.

To even the score, I took a Pittsburgher with me, who had eaten at the original Primanti in his home city. We both were surprised that the down-home sandwich shop has grown into a family-friendly chain, where toddlers are accommodated with high chairs, parents can get adult beverages, millennials congregate at the huge central bar and the food is churned out of the kitchen.

It's a rollicking place with an outside entrance at Valley Mall and was packed with diners on our visit. The atmosphere is fun, but we left convinced that Baltimore's signature pit beef would win any day over a Primanti sandwich.

Scene & Decor Think a chain restaurant like Applebee's or TGI Friday's for the concept. At Primanti Bros., diners are seated at tables, booths and high tops surrounding a large rectangular bar. With two dozen TVs around the restaurant, there are lots of options to watch a game. Classic rock blares from the sound system. A fire pit with seating around its perimeter anchors a room with windows that can be raised in nice weather to create a covered patio. Brick and faux stone add warmth and trendiness.

Appetizers We started with spicy, beer-battered pub pickles ($5.39) that didn't have any hints of the cayenne that was listed as a spice in the dish. The thin, wedges were accompanied by a bland ranch dressing. A buffalo shrimp basket ($8.99), loaded nachos with house-made chips ($8.59) and crispy zucchini planks with homemade tomato sauce ($5.99) are other options.

Entrees The half-pound Angus burger ($8.39) is so weighty with cheese (we picked provolone), lettuce, tomato and onion stacked atop the meat patty that our waitress thoughtfully brought us a knife to cut it in half. It's still a handful. But Primanti's "almost famous" sandwiches are the reason most diners come here. There are numerous choices to pair with the fresh-cut French fries, coleslaw, tomato slices and provolone stuffed between the thick slices of Italian bread.

We opted for the capicola ($6.99). It arrived with a steak knife plunged through the contents to keep them together. A server explained that the sandwich is the size of a restaurant napkin dispenser. That's about right.

We were disappointed with the soggy fries and paltry slices of Italian ham on our sandwich. Next time, we'll upgrade to double meat for an extra charge. You can also add a fried egg to the pile. It would be quite a feat if you can fit the whole thing in your mouth.

Drinks Twenty-four drafts on tap, from domestics like Bud Light ($3.75) to specialty beers like Tröegs Mad Elf ($7); specialty cocktails include the Drunk Duck, similar to a Long Island iced tea, with a rubber ducky on top ($7.95); and an assortment of wines, including sangria made with merlot ($7.25). All drinks are half price during happy hour (4 p.m.-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close Monday-Friday; 9 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).

Service Our server kept calling us "Hon," which was a little unnerving so far from Baltimore and given she could have been our daughter. She was distracted when we were there, perhaps because we were seated at a communal table, where the other occupants were keeping her busy, too.

Dessert Given the oversized food choices, it makes sense that there are only a few dessert choices. We found solace in a classic brownie sundae ($4.39), served on a plate with a mountain of whipped cream encasing vanilla ice cream and a warm brownie. There are also a bread pudding with bourbon sauce ($4.99) and spiked milkshakes ($7.69) for adults.