And then I hear the women to my right having the conversation my ears were looking for.
They're talking about past experiences at Primanti Bros. One of the women is remarking how the restaurant basically helped her get through college and helped deter many, many hangovers where she grew up in Pittsburgh. I take a sip of my beer before asking their thoughts on the Pittsburgh-based chain's newest location, attached to Circle Centre Mall on the corner of Illinois and Maryland Streets.
The woman who grew up with the original location, in Pittsburgh's Strip District, immediately says, "Well, this one is definitely less grimy and dirty."
Which isn't a surprise when comparing a brand new restaurant to a Rust Belt workingman's hangout that has been in business since 1933. She is quick to point out the sandwiches are just as good and the beer selection is even better — which she says just before ordering a Stella, a let down considering all the local beers on tap.
From my taste of the sandwich, I have to slightly disagree with her observation. I visited the original location a few years ago and while it was nice to step into a place steeped with history to get a taste, the sandwich had left me desiring something more. At the Indianapolis location though, I found the sandwich was immensely better, so much so that I went back for seconds.
If you've never had a Primanti Bros. sandwich, here's the idea: their food was created for truckers who were in a hurry and needed a full meal as fast as possible, so the original owners took the basic ingredients of a meal and smashed 'em between two pieces of white bread. You've got your five basic food groups: meat, cheese, vegetables, coleslaw and, of course, fries. (The fries came later, but not too long after the original restaurant opened.)
While the sandwiches are the star here, they're far from the only option. The menu offers pizza, buffalo shrimp, chili, salads and even a Spicy Southwest Black Bean Burger.
I've been to plenty of restaurant previews. Some have gone incredibly well, some not so much. They're always a bit hectic, but I have to say the staff here is one of the most well-prepared staffs I've seen at a preview. And they seem to be having a good time too, which is a nice change compared to many openings where staff are running around like cats without whiskers.
I order an Oktoberfest, knowing I don't have much longer to bask in the malty goodness that is Märzen. The bartender responds by naming a few Oktoberfests, and then she goes into the pumpkin beers they have as well, listing at least 10 beers all from memory and giving me tasting notes on a few of her favorites. She sells me on a pumpkin stout.
I'm glad she did. It is incredible. And I make sure to tell the three other people from that staff that stop by to ask what I think.
From beginning to end of the opening event, the crowd and workers are high energy and having fun and the food is great. The best news of the evening is that they'll be serving late-nights (until 1 a.m. Mon.-Thur., 2 a.m Fri. & Sat. and 11 p.m. on Sun.) which is much needed Downtown, especially near the popular Meridian Street area.
This isn't the restaurant's first foray into the Indianapolis market and it's not the last. Earlier this year they opened a location in Noblesville and during a quick chat with their CEO David Head, he let me know they plan on opening locations in Greenwood and Avon in the near future.
Scene: The room is packed with people. Everyone is engaged in conversations; the businessmen to my left are having a colorful chat about the latest Presidential debate, the booth of four young guys behind me are spitting out reasons why they each lost at fantasy football ("My fucking quarterback got me 9 damn points!" You're better off than me; mine got 3.62 this week.").