Pittsburgh Salad May Be The Most Delicious Way To Get Some Greens

Pittsburgh, besides being one of the 11 best sandwich cities in the U.S. and home to one of the best NFL teams of all time, is also home to putting fries on everything – including salad. The Pittsburgh salad isn't your light side salad or classy Cobb salad. It's a salad that's a mix of seemingly disjointed ingredients, with iceberg lettuce, salad veggies, chicken or steak, cheese, and french fries coming together with a shot of tangy ranch dressing (on the side) in a big bowl. It's a very unique, very regional dish that isn't often found outside of western Pennsylvania, and it's usually on the menu as a chicken salad or steak salad.

It may not make much sense on paper, but when the ingredients come together, it just works, like taking a steak with french fries and side salad then just whacking it in a bowl. The combination is so good, it'll make even the most picky meat-and-potatoes folks eat their greens.

Pittsburgh salads are very customizable

The beauty of a Pittsburgh salad is that it can be whatever you want; it's customizable. The ingredients are flexible in that you can add your favorite salad stand-bys — so long as french fries end up on top. They're non-negotiable. They can be any french fry cut you want — hand cut or frozen, fried or oven-baked, curly, waffle, shoestring — so long as they're hot, crunchy, and potato-y.

As for the more delicate ingredients, you can go in virtually any direction: crisp, cooling cucumbers, pickled spicy peppers for some acidity, raw onion, tomato, red pepper. You create your own destiny, friend. To withstand the heat of the hot french fry and meat, you need a good, sturdy base, so delicate salad greens like arugula or baby spinach are out (unless you're a fan of wilted greens) — opt for iceberg or romaine instead. Most restaurants will give you two options for the meat: chicken or steak. But here you actually also have a choice, like any cut of steak you want, or even fish or shrimp. In some small pockets of Pittsburgh, kibbeh isn't unheard of. Top it all with grated mozzarella or cheddar and your favorite salad dressing, then you have yourself a Pittsburgh salad.

This seemingly pedestrian dish can also be gussied up for higher-end restaurants, perhaps by using free-range organic meat, artisanal cheeses, or imported ingredients. Just as long as the french fries are good.

Pittsburgh salads were a happy accident

The Pittsburgh salad, like a lot of regional American foods, has a murky backstory with a few claimants. It's a story of an off-menu food order, along the same lines as eggs Benedict or Caesar salad. According to one history of Pittsburgh-area food, in the Pittsburgh suburbs of the 1960s, a customer at Jerry's Curb Service went off-menu and asked for a steak sandwich without the bread, and requested additional fries and a salad. Thus was born the Pittsburgh salad. Another area restaurant, Hilltop Grill, also claims to be the inventor of the Pittsburgh salad. Whatever its origins, this is meant to be a satisfying meal, not a light bite.

You might be asking yourself, why all the french fries, though? Pittsburghers love their potatoes; local attraction Kennywood's Potato Patch cuts, cooks, and sells 8,000 pounds of potatoes every day. Plus, if you look at the components of the Pittsburgh salad, it's just a Pittsburgh sandwich in a bowl. The french fries are no doubt owed to Pittsburgh sandwich legends Primanti Brothers and its Pittsburgh sandwich, created in the 1930s for steelworkers to eat — with the fries and coleslaw inside the sandwich, instead of served on the side, to give you the convenience of all the elements of a meal in one hand-held package.

Pittsburgh salads range from super classy to basic yet tasty

If you're not planning on heading to Pittsburgh anytime soon, you can make your own Pittsburgh salad at home, incorporating homemade ranch dressing and a perfectly medium-rare, tender sirloin steak. From there, start with the greens and add whatever you like. But be sure to top it all off with hot crispy fries.

However, if you do head to Pittsburgh, you can find anything from a classy Pittsburgh salad called Steak & Greens at Urban Tap, to a Pittsburgh salad piled high with grilled chicken, crispy shoestring fries, and sliced hard-boiled eggs at Industry Public House. If you lean more pescatarian, you can find a Pittsburgh salad with blackened salmon or shrimp, accompanied by provolone and cheddar cheeses at Sunny Jim's Tavern. You can also head to Pamela's Diner, a favorite spot of President Obama, and order its Pittsburgh-style grilled chicken, a huge tossed salad with romaine, iceberg, tomatoes, olives, and cheddar cheese, topped with grilled chicken and french fries.

If you're in the area, be sure you don't miss the salads or the sandwiches. They're an icon of the city and a reflection of its culture, and definitely worth the trip.