Listed on the menu under "Tempters" and bearing the "R" designating a restaurant favorite, fried green tomatoes have been a stalwart at Ritter's Diner ever since Idgie Threadgoode served them up onscreen in the Southern-fried girl-power movie.
"We have people drive like an hour to get them," says Ritter's manager John Velisaris, whose father and three uncles own the 24-hour Bloomfield diner. He says his father decided to offer them after the movie came out, and they've been popular ever since. His father had learned the recipe from working at Horne's Tea Room, Downtown. The Tea Room's gone, but the tomato dish, thankfully, can still be had.
The thick, fleshy slabs -- dredged in crumby goodness, fried up hot and smelling like a carnival midway -- come piled on the plate. They surround a pot of a spicy, creamy sauce that adds bite and flavor to the crispified, not-quite-ripe fruit. The fried tomatoes are more substantial than appetizer-list VIPs such as zucchini planks, and the heft of each cut holds up beautifully against the breading and the heavy dipping sauce. At first glance they look like any deep-fried comfort food, but once you slice in, the green is a delightful surprise.
The dipping sauce is a concoction of sour cream, horseradish, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. The breading is made up of "a little bit of everything," Velisaris says. "Italian seasoning, cracker meal, and a couple other things I can't get into."
A plateful would easily work as a meal or as an appetizer to share. Plus, they're hearty enough to help soak up any sins you may have swallowed, too.
"We sell a lot of them on the night shift," Velisaris says.
Sometimes in the dead of winter, the dish has to go off the menu temporarily because green tomatoes can't be tracked down.
"I have people come in and say, 'Fry me up some red ones.' They just want the flavor," says Velisaris.
When they are on the menu, which is most of the time, the tomatoes come either from the restaurant's regular purveyor, or from as nearby as possible.
"In the summer, we get them at the farmers' markets," Velisaris says. "My uncles have gardens. We have customers who bring them from their own gardens."
So slide into a booth, fire up your personal jukebox (if you get a good seat) and indulge in a satisfying plateful of this Southern -- and now a Pittsburgh -- favorite.
5221 Baum Blvd.