Pittsburgh's Most Iconic Salad Is Topped With French Fries

Usually, when we're craving a salad, it comes from an acute desire to enjoy something light and healthy. There aren't many hard-set rules on what to put in a salad as long as it tastes good and isn't too heavy, but some salads don't play by the rules. The Pittsburgh salad is one of the outlaws in this space, breaking the cardinal rule and topping this we-dare-to-say meal with delicious, carby french fries and your choice of protein. 

While it may disrupt our gut sense of what a salad is, it doesn't mean it's unhealthy as it's otherwise loaded with nutritious and fiber-rich vegetables. A Pittsburgh salad is commonly topped with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. That foundation is then typically spread over with steak or chicken, a sprinkling of cheese, and some dressing.

Pittsburgh locals who haven't traveled far beyond steel country might be shocked to learn that topping a salad with crispy french fries is a foreign concept in most other places, but like many food legends, the precise origins of this cuisine are hard to pin down. 

How the Pittsburgh salad got its start

Understanding the origin of the Pittsburgh salad requires knowing about its likely source of inspiration — the Pittsburgh-style sandwich. This hearty meal consists of a generous helping of steak, cheese, coleslaw, and fries trapped between two slices of Italian bread and is said to have come to popularity during the 1920s. One prevailing theory about how the Pittsburgh salad came to be describes a drive-in north of Pittsburgh named Jerry's Curb Service. The story goes that a customer came in one night and asked to be served a steak sandwich with no bun and requested that french fries and dressing be on top. Intrigued by the peculiar order, the restaurant owner's wife made a version for herself on a bed of lettuce, and as the legend goes, the Pittsburgh salad was born. Fans of modern versions of the kebab will also not balk at fries' inclusion with salad and hot meat, whether it shows up on a plate, or inside a wrap or bun.

The original salad hasn't changed much since its inception, though it can be customized in various ways. Some prefer to add shrimp instead of steak to it, and adding more unique veggies to the salad, like avocados, has gained popularity over time. The type of dressing used to top the salad varies widely, with some preferring Italian or balsamic and others using variations of spiced-up ranch. With this salad, anything goes, as long as it's topped with crispy, thin french fries.

Are Pittsburgh salads only sold in The Burgh?

People can have mixed reactions when they learn about the Pittsburgh salad for the first time. Some find the idea of topping a fresh salad with french fries just wrong, but others wonder why they have never heard about this enticing entrée. You might occasionally find a random Pittsburgh salad in establishments serving pub fare, but it's not common to see much beyond Steel City. However, the great thing about this salad is that it is easy to construct, even if you are in a restaurant that doesn't specifically have it on the menu. Outside the area, you can ask your server if you can get fries on top of a steak salad, or just order a side of fries and put them on yourself.

If you want to make your own at home, don't think you need to find the perfect recipe. Use your gut and incorporate the flavors you want to taste as you enjoy each bite. There is only one unbreakable law with a Pittsburgh salad — it must be crowned with crispy french fries. Otherwise, it is just a steak salad.

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