On a recent trip to the Pittsburgh area, I resolved to accomplish two things relating to Hawaii-Aloha.com. The first was to find a signature dish somewhere in the city and compare it to Hawaii’s own signature food, the good old plate lunch. My other objective was to approach my return to Honolulu as a first time visitor.

I had a barbeque chicken sandwich at Heinz Field during a Pittsburgh Pirates game, but it lacked the requisite uniqueness of a signature dish. After a call to friend with a native’s knowledge of the steel town, I was directed to an establishment named Primanti’s, which features “The Primanti,” a diabolical sandwich creation that is certainly worthy of being called a Pittsburgh specialty and a comparison to my beloved plate lunch.

Architecturally, the Primanti begins with two inch-thick slices of fresh baked bread. From these humble beginnings the sandwich becomes a decadent, heart stopping behemoth of spicy Italian cappacola ham, more cheese than should be legal, fresh cut French fries and a pile of coleslaw. It should be noted here that I am by no means a “big eater.” I generally eat when I’m hungry and until I’m full. I’ve never been much of a plate-cleaner. And I’m definitely not a “foodie.” But the Primanti was so delicious as to be almost otherworldly, and I hungrily devoured the monstrous sandwich and washed it down with a Yeungling Lager, a regional Pennsylvania brew.

I’ve never experienced anything like Primanti in Honolulu, so I thought long and hard about whether it may actually surpass the plate lunch as the perfect signature city dish. And then I realized that although the Primanti is wildly delicious, it’s only made at Primanti’s. Plate lunches are made all over the state of Hawaii, often with unique flourishes and more choices than can be accurately numbered. Each macaroni salad is different from lunch joint to lunch joint, portions are always generous and options for pork, beef, chicken, fish or even veggies are practically limitless. So my verdict is this: the Primanti is an exotic gem of gastronomical genius in Pittsburgh, but the plate lunch in Hawaii is very much more of a signature food, a cherished part of our local identity.

My second objective was considerably easier to accomplish. We arrived at the Pittsburgh airport at 7am. Security was a breeze and the bar was thankfully open. I enjoyed my customary preflight cocktail before boarding our United Airlines connecting flight to O’Hare International in Chicago. A brief layover was over quickly and we were soon in our seats for the painfully long direct flight to Honolulu. I say painfully, because frankly, I’ve always found air travel to be tedious at best, and more often than not flatly unpleasant.

But I’m happy to report that that has changed in recent years. The flight was long, but the flight crew’s service was cheerful and frequent. I even got free headphones (didn’t airlines used to charge an arm and a leg for those things?). As we approached the airport I was again taken by the beauty of these islands, and could easily imagine the wonder and excitement that first timers to Hawaii must feel as their plane banks around the reef runway and the Koolau Range grow from streaks of myriad shades of green to looming mountains. The ocean leaps up to greet visitors (and returning journalists), and by the time they make it out of baggage claim into the balmy trade winds, most seem immediately enraptured by these islands and excited for what experiences await them in Hawaii. So, while we like to say here “Lucky We Live Hawaii,” it can also be said that “Lucky We Visit Hawaii.”

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