It started as a gag gift in the 1960s.
The Catanzano brothers, Joseph and John, were at the family’s Swissvale bar, the Triangle Bar and Grill, and made a special sandwich for their friend Tony Villiotti. They bowled in a league together, and the night of the bowling banquet was also Villiotti’s 27th birthday.
For years, the Triangle had been trimming the 27-inch loaves of bread they ordered to make other sandwiches, but on this night, they created the Battleship: a sandwich that used the entire loaf of bread.
The brothers loaded the two-foot-long-and-then-some sandwich with more than a pound of salami and ham and provolone cheese. They topped it with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano.
“Tony ate all of it!” Joseph Catanzano wrote in a history of the bar that he compiled for his family.
“While we were making Tony’s sandwich, there was a customer, John Chambers, who came to the bar regularly. He watched us make the sandwich. He had five kids. He came in the bar the next day and wanted us to make him the same sandwich,” Catanzano wrote. “We did and sold it to him for $1.50 plus 9 cents tax. So it began. Other people started to ask for this sandwich.”
They ended up calling it the Battleship because John was a Navy man. From there, it became famous.
John died decades ago. His brother, August Joseph Catanzano, known as Joe to his family and regulars at the bar, died Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. He was 93.
“He was a Pittsburgh icon,” said his daughter, Rose Ann Mycka, of Monroeville.
Mycka said the Battleship was a fluke of a sandwich that just took off. It was joined by others, the Super Battleship with nearly double the meat, the Destroyer at a foot long and Torpedo at six inches long. The sandwiches made the unassuming bar an iconic stop for gastronomes, along with being a cool neighborhood bar in an old steel town.
Battleships have been flown to foodies and yinzers across the country, Mycka said.
“He was thrilled. Totally thrilled,” Mycka said about her dad’s reaction to the Battleship’s popularity.
The Catanzanos sold the Triangle in 1982, but the Crombie family has carried on the legacy. The bar and the popularity of the Battleship remains afloat.
Joe Catanzano was a lifelong Swissvale resident and a big Pittsburgh sports fan who attended several Super Bowls and World Series games, Mycka said.
“He was a wonderful person. A wonderful father, a wonderful husband,” Mycka said.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at Friday morning at Madonna del Castello Church in Swissvale, where Joe was a lifelong member.