Thin Man Sandwich Shop in Strip is rich in culinary creations
One glance at the ingredients of Thin Man Sandwich Shop's namesake sandwich, The Thin Man, is enough to inform even the most casual of menu readers that this eatery is not a place to become a thin man — or woman.
Chicken-liver mousse, local bacon, frisee greens and red-wine vinaigrette on a Breadworks baguette add up to a sandwich that is decidedly not dietary fare.
“It's pretty clear that is not the case,” says Sherri Leiphart, who owns the shop with her husband, Dan. They live in Carnegie, Sherri's hometown; Dan is originally from Carlisle, Cumberland County.
No, the sandwich shop was named not for the food implications, but for the “Thin Man” movies that starred Pittsburgh native William Powell and Myrna Loy. The two stars played Nick and Nora Charles, whose witty banter reminded the shop owners of their relationship. The movies were based on the 1934 Dashiell Hamnett novel, “The Thin Man.”
“We love the ‘Thin Man' movies,” says Sherri Leiphart, 40. The main characters “make fun of each other in front of other people — more than most would do in the 1930s,” Sherri says.
Though the sandwich shop is casual enough for Strip District warehouse workers, the ingredients and flavors the Leipharts put into their sandwiches and side dishes might appeal to Loy's socialite Nora Charles. That's because both Leipharts trained at the former Pennsylvania Culinary Institute here, where they met. Then the two worked separately as chefs in high-end restaurants such as Le Pommier and Lidia's. After Dan went to Isabella's, Sherri joined him; they worked together there for more than three years.
Eventually, though, “we wanted to cut out all the barriers between chef and the diner,” Dan Leiphart, 36, says. “We wanted to streamline things and have interaction with the customers.”
And there was another reason for looking for a sandwich place.
“We wanted a day job,” his wife says. “We were never able to go to a friend's wedding.”
They still wanted to “hit a creativity level and an interest level” with their food creations, she says.
Despite their high-end culinary capabilities, “we are casual people,” Sherri says. “After years of fancy, fine dining, we wanted to do something more representative of ourselves.”
After more than two years of looking at locations in the Strip, which Sherri calls “the culinary epicenter of the city,” they came across a corner space with windows on Smallman and 21st streets. 21st Street Coffee had moved down the block, so the Leipharts jumped at the chance to open a sandwich shop in February 2013.
The Leipharts thought Strip District shoppers would be their main customers. But though shoppers have stopped to dine, a mix of people, including those ages 25 to 45, and lots of chefs and bartenders, have patronized the sandwich shop.
“They understand what we do,” Leiphart says. Diners perch at barstools on the first floor, or occupy tables and chairs upstairs and outside.
Thin Man's offerings include the namesake sandwich, at $7.99; Il Bastardo, with mortadella, a runny fried egg, American cheese and olive focaccia, for $6.99; and The Smash, with goat milk-marinated organic chicken breast, avocado, sprouts and lemon-pickled green onion on a wheat baguette, for $8.99.
Those three signature sandwiches never rotate off the menu. Seasonal sandwiches that switch out every seven to eight weeks have included the Smoked Mussel and Whitefish Rillette with creme fraiche, cornichon vinaigrette and pea shoots on a baguette, for $8.99; or the Roasted Pork Belly, with honey-cayenne glaze, grilled green onions and escarole on a baguette, for $8.50.
Side dishes include Cream of Chard Soup for $3.50 and a Crispy Risotto Cake with horseradish, marscapone and green onion, for $3.
And the Leipharts have been known to package up eight ounces of that chicken-liver mousse in containers for would-be Nora Charles types. The containers cost $8 each.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Green Lentils With Bacon and White Truffle Vinaigrette
When Thin Man Sandwich Shop opened in 2013, its Green Lentils With Bacon and White Truffle Vinaigrette side dish was instantly popular.
“People were crazy for it; there were protests when we took it off the menu,” Sherri Leiphart says.
Native to the Near East, the lentil is frequently served in dishes throughout the Mediterranean, Near East and India. Lentil dishes are filling with good reason: About 30 percent of their calories come from protein, and a serving contains half the daily iron requirement for adults.
And then there's the taste of lentils. Somewhat earthy, the tiny discs can take on some of the flavors combined with them. Leiphart and her husband, Dan, co-owners of Thin Man Sandwich Shop in the Strip District, chose to partner the earthy lentil with sweet carrots and red wine, salty bacon and flavor-packed truffle oil for a layering of flavors.
The couple brought the dish back for the restaurant's one-year anniversary in February and may bring it back again, as the lentil dish has been Thin Man's most popular side.
Until they do, the Leipharts are sharing the recipe so cooks can make their own at home, where it can be served hot as a side or main dish, or at room temperature at a summertime buffet. Dan Leiphart says bacon lovers can double or triple the bacon if they like, or leave out the truffle oil.
For the lentils:
4 ounces bacon lardons
2 carrots, medium size, cut into small dice
1⁄2 Spanish onion, cut into small dice
1 bay leaf
1 1⁄2 cup French green or regular brown lentils
3⁄4 cup red wine
3 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
1 1⁄2 ounces red-wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce white truffle oil
To prepare the lentils: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat, add the bacon with just a drizzle of canola oil. Cook the bacon for 3 to 5 minutes until some of the fat is rendered (see photo 1), then add the carrots, onions and bay leaf. Stir with a wooden spoon until the onions are translucent (photo 2). Add the lentils, wine and water, and turn the heat to high (photo 3). Stir as necessary. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-medium high and simmer until the lentils are cooked through but still have a bite to them, for about 25 to 35 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Note: Liquid levels may vary based on your stove's burner capabilities. You may need to add water if it looks as if it has evaporated before the lentils are cooked, or you may need to strain some liquid out if the lentils cook before all of the water is absorbed.
To prepare the vinaigrette: Put the red-wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and white truffle oil in a small squeeze bottle or a bowl. Season to taste with salt and shake or whisk well (photo 4).
Drizzle the vinaigrette on the lentils; taste for desired flavor.
Makes 4 side servings.