TPN’s resident Brit gorges on Oakland’s greasiest grub

By Dylan Abbott / Staff Writer

The popular perception concerning American cuisine in my home country of Britain often gravitates toward certain adjectives. These can include fatty, greasy, fried and just generally a bit excessive. Yet, in my mind, these aren’t necessarily all bad.

As a stiff-upper-lip Brit who has lived under the doctrine of “everything in moderation” for most of my life, I was eager to venture into the hedonistic world of U.S. food.

I had always assumed that every pleasure-filled, supersized meal came with a side-order of guilt. But this was exactly the kind of guilt I wanted to experience.

The first stop on my Pittsburgh food odyssey was locally acclaimed chain Primanti Bros. It was a Friday evening and I was desirous of greasy stodge: A pattering of taste would have certainly been welcome, but not necessary. Like any overly proud but completely ignorant tourist, I chose the first item that grabbed my attention, suitably named the “Pittsburgher.” I watched the preparation of what I swiftly discovered was a sandwich.

Though, this was unlike any sandwich I’d seen before.

Now in England, we have a rather modest dish called a “chip butty,” also known as fries in a sandwich. It’s cheap, cheerful and simple — a homely meal that lacks imagination and any effort. So when I was presented with the mother of all “chip butties” on this particular evening, I thought I had found my new late-night-carb mecca. 

With a few generous splashes of hot sauce, I precariously and enthusiastically gorged on my meal, as all the while fries, coleslaw, meat and tomatoes tried to escape from between the two slices of bread in an effort to elude my eager mouth. The majority of satisfaction came from my merciless completion of the thing. Yet, as I contemplated my seminal venture into proper Pittsburgh dining, I began to feel slightly cheap.

Sure, my craving was satisfied, but I felt as though I’d just played my part in a loveless affair. My British asceticism kicked in, and as I sluggishly left Primanti Bros., I looked up to the night sky and promised myself, “Never again.”

Next up was Quaker Steak and Lube, an establishment that boasts in neon green lights, “best wings U.S.A.”

It may not be grammatically spot-on, but it’s an enticing claim, nonetheless. After finding myself in need of a menu translator once again — I’m convinced there must be “Intro to Ordering Food” classes that I’ve missed out on — I settled on six Arizona ranch wings with fries and a side order of macaroni and cheese, for good measure.

Having found a seat, I commenced mindlessly staring at a baseball game, attempting to comprehend — to no avail — what the players were doing and why they were doing it.

Fifteen minutes and a mountain of napkins later, I was once again left to contemplate what I had just done. I felt all wrong and dirty, both inside and out. My eager disregard for any cutlery had resulted in an orange, sticky residue varnishing the tips of my fingers that the napkins couldn’t remove.

My mouth was slightly numbed by the spice of the chicken wings and a sugary, salty gloop coated my tongue. I observed that the fries and macaroni and cheese were gone, though I couldn’t recollect consuming them. The only remnants were chicken bones and an uncomfortable groaning from my gut. I was left with the kind of guilt that makes you consider leaving this sinful world behind and starting afresh as a monk.

It was a Sunday morning, and instead of resting on the Sabbath like a good monk, I ventured over to Squirrel Hill to, once again, indulge myself on some more American eats, this time at the highly-praised Pamela’s Diner. 

I ordered “American” French toast with sausages, a side of strawberries, a black coffee and orange juice. As the amiable waitress left, I retrieved my book from my bag and started to read, in an attempt to look both intellectual and also nonchalant about being in a diner by myself on a Sunday morning. I think I pulled it off.

As I secretively spied on the various plates of gourmet decadence surrounding me and the jolly diners, my patience waned and an infantile enthusiasm took hold. Luckily, my food swiftly arrived. Three generous chunks of fried, egg-coated bread with a pile of sausages and a bowl of rosy strawberries sat in front of me. After discovering that the black jug on my table contained syrup, I doused the majority of my meal in the golden nectar, knowing that this was common practice in these parts.

Having learned my lesson from previous experiences, I decided to take my time. I raised the first forkful to my mouth. An ebullition of buttery, syrupy, sausagey delight instantly took place. I was tasting things I never knew were possible, and it overrode all sense of self-loathing that my previous endeavours had produced. Once completed, I sat back like a contented lord and sighed. When the waitress collected my licked-clean plate and asked me how everything was, I simply grinned inanely and nodded. Sometimes, words are not enough.

So, what have I learned? For a start, every restaurant table should supply syrup as a necessary condiment — period. Also, and more importantly, from my few experiences, I’ve learned that indulgence is a fine line, and there is an art to it that I have yet to master.

On the flipside, self-restraint can similarly be both a virtue and a vice: Pleasure is one of life’s necessities, but not always necessary. A balance is then required, and maybe I’ll replace my former British beliefs with something a particularly influential American by the name of Mark Twain purportedly wrote: “All things in moderation, including moderation.”

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