Grow, Cook, Drink: Thin Man Sandwich Shop
Sherri and Dan Leiphart rely on a near-identical palate and ‘adventurous’ combinations of ingredients to compose the Thin Man Sandwich Shop menu.
photo by Laura Petrilla
Editor’s Note: Each month, Pittsburgh food and drinks writer Hal B. Klein will explore what inspires our region’s chefs, farmers and others who create wonderful things to eat and drink.
Sherri Leiphart, co-owner of the Thin Man Sandwich Shop, has an insider secret that will make your next sandwich pop: “Never underestimate the power of lemon juice.”
She and her husband Dan opened their gourmet sandwich shop in the Strip District in February 2013. It was a risky move to leave their jobs as co-executive chefs of Isabela on Grandview to serve goat curry, venison and roasted parsnip sandwiches to a city so proud of its iconic sandwich of lunchmeat topped with French fries.
“We were terrified at the beginning that people wouldn’t be ready for our type of sandwiches,” says Dan. Pittsburgh was ready. In fact, says Sherri, “We found the more adventurous we are, the more popular the sandwich.”
What’s the secret behind a Thin Man sandwich? To start, Sherri says, “we have almost an identical palate.”
Still, an identical palate doesn’t mean an identical process. Much like the legendary musical duos of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Timberlake and Timbaland, the couple’s best work comes from balancing each other’s strengths. “We keep each other in check,” says Dan.
Dan is modernist, influenced by Asian flavors and a “recipe guy.” Sherri sticks to classic technique, is influenced by French and Middle Eastern cuisine and is happy to wing it.
Arguments are infrequent but do happen. In the end, “one of us will cave,” says Sherri. “We trust that we’re going to get to the same place,” adds Dan.
Inspiration for sandwiches can come any time. Sometimes a sandwich — as with a recent hit, butter chicken — is a deliberate reinvention of an old recipe from Isabela. Inspiration even strikes while they’re watching TV. “We can be sitting on the couch for hours watching TV and then suddenly, ‘What if we used chickpeas?’ And the next thing you know we’re conceptualizing a sandwich,” says Sherri.
Back to that lemon: A hit of acidity is an essential component of a phenomenal sandwich. “Bread covers up a lot of flavors,” Sherri says. Although she and Dan consider bread to be an ingredient, they also know they have to add extra layers of seasoning — such as lemon — to make every other flavor pop.
Here’s one more tidbit from Thin Man: Don’t get too attached to your creations. Although three Signature Thin Man sandwiches live forever, every other option’s time on the menu is fleeting. “We are usually very happy when it comes time to take a sandwich off,” says Sherri. That means there’s room to create a new one.
Thin Man Pimento Cheese with Grilled Scallions and Bibb Lettuce
Makes four sandwiches
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1½ teaspoon wholegrain mustard
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 ounces pimentos or roasted red peppers
- 1 tablespoon Frank’s Red Hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon other hot sauce (habanero if possible)
- 8 slices thick-cut white bread
- Grilled or roasted scallions
- 1 head Bibb lettuce
1. Place all ingredients except for bread, scallions and lettuce into a bowl.
2. Blend contents with electric mixer at low speed until ingredients are just starting to come together.
3. Increase speed to medium-high and mix for 1 minute.
4. Toast the bread lightly. Spread a thick layer of cheese mixture onto 4 slices of bread.
5. Top with grilled or roasted scallions, Bibb lettuce and other 4 slices.