Photo by Alyse Horn
A 2014 Sandwich Week sammitch.

By: Neil Strebig

Sandwiches, check. Beer garden, check. Ten days of deli meat, carb-loading and condiment chasing madness, check.

Tonight’s “Sandwich Sampler V: The Pastrami Strikes Back” officially kicks off the fifth annual Northside Sandwich Week. The sandwich sampler will be held at the Grand Hall in the Priory Hotel. The 10-day long event will run through until Sunday, May 29.

“It’s been wonderfully successful,” said Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla. “[It is] a great way to show off great neighborhood bars and taverns.”

Dozens of local restaurants and pubs will battle it out tonight for the honor be being crowned this year’s best sandwich.

“For me, part of the benefit to competition like this and attention like this, is that the Northside in general becomes more well known for space where there is quality food and beverage,” said Scratch Food & Beverage owner Don Mahaney. “The more people that are in the space the merrier.”

Scratch was last year’s winner with its Beef Tongue Rueben and will look to repeat the victory this year with their Pig Hill Banh Mi.

“This is kind of our take on the banh mi sandwich. We liked that idea of a sandwich, and we kind of played with that idea in different variations,” said Scratch Executive Chef Matt Petruna.

“We liked to highlight braunschweiger, which is a great sort of German ingredient. Traditional banh mi has that liver pate on it so we figured this was a perfect transition to, you know, bring you back to Pittsburgh.”

Along with the braunschweiger, Scratch’s banh mi will have sous vide pork belly, cilantro, pickled carrots and kimchi aioli, which Petruna said adds a “savory richness” to the sandwich will be on homemade bread.

In a competition Mahaney described as “unlike any other,” he believes Petruna and Co. put together a possible repeat winner.

“With some pork belly, this sandwich was definitely more balanced than the one we put out last year,” Mahaney said. “I don’t know if that means it will lend itself to a win or not, but I’m really interested to see people’s reaction to it actually is.”

Scratch won’t be the only restaurant trying to steal the show this year.

“We definitely view Scratch as our main competition,” said Legends of the North Shore Sous Chef Matt Gault. He admitted Scratch caught him off guard last year.

“[It was] hard to compete with a beef tongue Rueben —  it’s unique and different,” Gault said.

Gault and Legends will enter the competition with a modified version of last year’s runner-up. This year’s Duetschtown Double Down 2.0 will be Italian roast beef, muenster and Swiss cheeses, candied bacon, onions, habanero peppers and tater tots on homemade focaccia.

“We are taking what we did last year and trying to improve it and make it that much better,” said Gault, “We’re keeping the bacon, but we’re going to go with a roast Italian beef instead.”

Although the two will be duking it out for the gold tonight, both Gault and Mahaney expressed their excitement for the addition of this year’s beer garden and the additional influx of eager eaters.

“I’m really excited to hear that’s happened,” Mahaney said of the Beer Garden which will feature War Streets Brewery, Allegheny City Brewing, and Penn Brewery — all Northside microbreweries.

“[Sandwich week] brings a lot of people who aren’t Northside residents over here for Thursday night,” Gault added. “I think the addition of the beer garden will be a big draw, too, especially with the breweries that are up and coming here on the Northside.”

While the Sandwich Sampler may harvest the most attention, there’s no doubting the positive business impact Northside Sandwich Week has for all the participants.

“It’s always a busier week,” said Chateau Café and Cakery  owner Kerine DeCarlo. “The day after [the sandwich sampler] is our busiest day of the year.”

DeCarlo’s Chateau Café will be looking to impact palates with their Chateau Cubano. However, even though DeCarlo believes they have an “award-winning sandwich,” she doesn’t enter the competition just to win, she enjoys the entire festival for all its worth.

“Anything that brings attention to the Northside is great,” she said, “[It shows] Northside is more than just the stadiums.”

Loosen your belts and get those taste buds ready, Northside Sandwich Week is here.

Click here for the full list of participants.