So, turns out, Munch has groupies.
Not that kind. No ribald tales that would rival the Motley Crue tour bus or a Rick Ross video shoot. No backstage bacchanalia -- besides, for Munch it wouldn't be sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but rather bacon, wings and sushi rolls.
And let's be clear -- it's not groupies, plural, but rather "a" groupie. A guy named Phil. Middle-aged fella. Owns a plumbing supply business. Not exactly TMZ material. I met him while serving as a "celebrity" chef at an event benefiting Hair Peace Charities -- an extremely worthwhile endeavor founded by KDKA radio traffic reporter Bonny Diver that raises money to help women buy wigs while undergoing chemotherapy.
Phil was positively breathless to meet a member of the Munch cabal. He talked me into giving him my chef's apron. He rattled off a bunch of reviews and gushed about the recent Weekend Magazine cover story about sandwiches in the 'Burgh.
Problem was none of these were Munch pieces, but rather those of dining critic Melissa McCart. What a burn! Call me Munch Dangerfield. No respect, I tell ya. But hey, Munch is happy to have at least one fan, even if Phil got it wrong. So Phil, this sandwich review is for you.
As if there aren't already hundreds of culinary reasons to go to the Strip District on any given day, Phil (and everybody else) can add another: The Thin Man Sandwich Shop.
Dan and Sherri Leiphart, veterans of some exclusive Pittsburgh kitchens -- Isabela on Grandview and Lidia's to name a few -- opened the shop in January at 21st and Smallman streets, just across from the gorgeous St. Stanislaus Kotska Catholic Church. The bright little spot with the campy 1950s logo specializes in some pretty excellent modern sandwiches using local ingredients when possible.
There's a red curry hummus ($6.99) made with roasted butternut squash, baby spinach, and cucumber on multi-grain bread; a lamb kofta pita ($9.50) using lamb meatballs from Latrobe's Jamison Farms, cilantro, jalapeno, and a creamy yogurt-tomato sauce; or the namesake, The Thin Man ($6.99) made of a chicken liver mousse, Penn's Corner bacon, frisee, and red wine vinaigrette on a baguette.
I'd never even met these folks and apparently they've already named a sandwich for me, the Il Bastardo. I kid. But composed of mortadella, a runny egg, and American cheese on an olive focaccia ($6.99) -- this was like the most deliciously souped-up bologna and cheese you could ever have. Every bite was a delicious mix of flavor, and the bread was perfect to soak up the egg.
My side order of French lentils with Penn's Corner bacon and a white truffle vinaigrette ($3) was a revelation. I could eat these every day -- a perfect mix of salty and tangy flavors.
A co-worker (and Munch's alter ego -- AEOM) tagged along, and it being Lent, he had the Albacore Tuna ($8.99) and was pretty pleased with it. He reported that the nice bit of fish worked well with roasted garlic, white bean puree, grilled radicchio, extra virgin olive oil and black pepper, on grilled rustic Italian bread. He also enjoyed his side order of roasted gold potatoes with parsnips and rosemary ($3).
We washed everything down with some rather interesting "pop" -- house-made infusions using seltzer water from the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works ($2.69). AEOM tried the lingonberry, and I loved the sweet ginger, which was like an excellent ginger ale, but more light and refreshing, and less weighed down by sugar.
It's kind of cool that the original home of Pittsburgh's most iconic sandwich and one of its most exciting new sandwich shops are only a few short blocks apart -- another interplay of old and new Pittsburgh. But it takes some real chops to hang in Pittsburgh's most food-centric neighborhood, and the Thin Man seems to have them.
Let's hope Phil will also approve.
The Thin Man Sandwich Shop is at 50 21st St. in the Strip District; 412-586-7370; http://thinmansandwichshop.com.munch