Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Turkey Devonshire: Reviving a Classic Pittsburgh Sandwich

The once-famous sandwich originated here but now is largely forgotten. We dive into its history and argue that it's time for a revival.



(page 2 of 2)

PEAK AND DECLINE
Ifft’s father, Alex Colaizzi, started working with Blandi in 1958. He believes the original recipe was Blandi’s but that, “while Frank created it, Dino [Nardi] certainly improved it.”

Nardi was the longtime chef at Park Schenley, which Blandi opened in 1954 in Oakland. The restaurant, for decades, ruled the roost as Pittsburgh’s mecca for fine dining, alongside LeMont, which Blandi and his brother Jim opened in 1960. This was the glory day of the Turkey Devonshire in Pittsburgh. “Along the way, customers and former employees introduced the dish to their restaurants and clubs. Soon — it was a ‘Pittsburgh Thing,’” writes Ryan. 

As often happens with food trends, however, knock-offs made with less care began being sold at cheaper prices. As selling processed foods became more acceptable for some diners since it kept down the price of dishes, the Turkey Devonshire suffered a tail-spin in quality. “At some point, ordering the dish was just like playing Devonshire roulette,” writes Ryan.

As the person with the most direct connection to the original, Colaizzi is doing a pretty good job carrying the torch at Alexander’s Bistro. Here, the turkey is cut from fresh-roasted breast; the bacon hits its mark, too. Colaizzi forgoes cheddar in his cheese sauce. From his memory, there never was cheddar in the mix; contemporary accounts and published recipes say that it should be. Instead, he makes a lovely bechamel enhanced with Parmesan and pecorino. It’s topped with paprika and browned beautifully. But the generic Italian bread, baked down the street at Sanchioli Brothers, is a bust; doughy, soggy and hardly toasted.

At Streets on Carson on the South Side, chef/owner Matt Christie is crafting a Turkey Devonshire that rivals Alexander’s for best in town. Served in a cast-iron pan, his feels contemporary but still rings true to the tradition. Christie uses toasted brioche as a base, a twist that adds an extra layer of flavor from the grill marks as well as supplying a sturdy base. His turkey is intensified with a little caramelization of the meat. Christie uses grape tomatoes, which cook to a concentrated punch even out of season. He cuts his bacon into triangles, which made the sandwich easier to eat but diminishes the presentation. I don’t hate that he folds American cheese (with a bit of cheddar) into the bechamel, but I do wish he’d used chicken stock to lighten it up a bit. It’s a heavy sauce. 

A few other places — Union Grill in Oakland, Hartwood Restaurant in Glenshaw and Kretzler’s Tavern in West View — also serve decent versions of the dish, but here’s the hard truth of the modern Turkey Devonshire: They all are imperfect. 

There are many ways to go wrong: manufactured meats, bad bread and heavy-handed or packaged sauce among the principal offenses. Most preparations embody at least a couple of those flaws. 

The most egregious insults to the dish’s honored memory, found at The Lamplighter in Delmont and a few other places, amalgamate all of its shortcomings in a single sad bite.

I was looking forward to Daniel’s Devonshire (designated in a place of honor on the restaurant’s menu as “Lamplighter’s signature for over 45 years!”) more than any I’d found in my research. The design and spirit of the restaurant feel frozen in 1967, when the Ferri family purchased the operation and co-owner Daniel Ferri ran the kitchen wearing chef’s whites and toque. This, I thought, was going to be a taste of the Devonshire in its heyday. I beamed when I saw the hulking red-and-yellow marquee advertising fine and casual dining on a long stretch of the William Penn Highway 25 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh. I thought I’d found Devonshire nirvana. 

But the Devonshires now coming from the kitchen are fallen-from-grace, freezer-burned. A sliver of industrial white bread, low-grade lunch meat turkey, gloomy ham and rubbery bacon are drowning in what could best be described as processed mac-and-cheese sauce meets state-fair nacho cheese. It was dismal. The Lamplighter, in a small way, broke my heart. 

It wasn’t always this way. Chad Townsend, co-owner and president of Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, worked there in the 1990s when he was in high school. Townsend recalls Ferri as a fastidious operator who insisted on house-roasted turkey breast and ham, and even employed a baker to make fresh, top-quality Pullman loaves daily. “He was really proud of what he was doing,” Townsend says.

It’s not just the components of the Turkey Devonshire that changed; our dining habits have too. The Devonshire was a mainstay dish for a sit-down, moderately formal lunch. Modern lunch culture typically means meals on-the-go, fast-casual or sad-desk-lunch, meaning the market for extended lunches is much diminished. “Like it or not, in modern times we have favored foods that can be held with one hand — leaving the other free to drive, text, type and God knows what else,” Ryan writes.
 


Matt Christie puts a slightly modern spin on the Turkey Devonshire, adding grape tomatoes, herbs and American cheese to his build at Streets on Carson on the South Side.
 

FUTURE
In turbulent periods such as the one we’re currently mired in, it’s natural to crave food that ballasts our psyches with the reassurance that everything is going to be alright. In December, Sam Sifton, food editor at The New York Times, wrote a story called, “In Defense of a Diner Classic: the Open-Faced Hot Turkey Sandwich,” that argues we all could use the comfort that comes along with that classic. Pittsburgh’s Turkey Devonshire is that sandwich ... but better. It has cheese in the gravy. 

It’s time to smooth out the rough edges that have developed over the years. Food memory and nostalgia are more fluid that we often think they are. Much as Colaizzi doesn’t recall cheddar cheese in Blandi’s creation, and therefore doesn’t use it in his build, things change over the course of time. They did even back then — Ryan recalls adding mustard powder and Worcestershire sauce to the ones he made at Nino’s in the 1970s.

The day after Thanksgiving, I added a blend of gruyere and cheddar to gravy built on turkey drippings, chicken stock, white wine and Dijon mustard. The additional components enhanced the flavor, and the elimination of milk made a heavy dish a little lighter. I’m Team Tomato when they’re in season (or if you can find some good preserved ones); the added acidity helps cut through a dish with a lot of bass notes. We ought to give good bread its due, too, and either bake our own or buy from bakeries such as Five Points Artisan Bakeshop, Madeleine Bakery & Bistro, Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette, Mediterra Bakehouse and Driftwood Oven. People often wonder what to do with sourdough boules a day or two after they’re cut; you can make beautiful toast with them. And I’m sure this is obvious at this point: roasting real turkey is essential. Using thighs instead of, or in addition to, breast meat will help elevate the dish.

“It would be a shame to lose a dish with such a rich history,” Ryan said in our correspondence.

Pittsburgh’s Turkey Devonshire embeds itself in people’s spirits: Ryan and his five-page paper; the Pittsburgh-born chef Bob Broskey adding one last month to his menu at the gastropub Beacon Tavern in Chicago; my newfound obsession. 

I finally figured out what bewitched me when I had that first one at Joe’s Rusty Nail. The Turkey Devonshire represents a lot of the values I place on food.

It connects us to place and to history. It takes time to prepare, and it takes time to eat; it’s a dish that reminds us to slow down. You need to use high-quality, unprocessed ingredients if you want to make it right. It’s a dish that reminds us that sometimes it’s OK to be a little indulgent. And, most importantly, when you have a great one, it’s delicious.  

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

All the County Fairs Happening This Summer in Western PA

Mark your calendars. There are 35 county fairs in western Pennsylvania this summer.

2019 Pittsburgh Area Fireworks: Where & When to Watch Them

This booming list of fireworks displays can help you get your fill of patriotism during the long holiday week.

What to Do with an Old Bank? Redecorate with Part of a Plane

The former PNC Bank in West View is now a community resource center with some very unique features.

The 400-Word Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

This arresting debut feature about displacement by the Bay is one of the year's best films.

Songs of Steel for a Summer in Pittsburgh

Love PGH Music Month has formed just in time for a summer filled with great shows.

You Could Be in a Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman Film

Want to be in a movie alongside some top celebrities? This is your chance!

Food, Beer and Games at the Crafty Jackalope

The popular Bridgeville bar serves its neighborhood well.

Can't Miss Concerts in Pittsburgh in July

This month's lineup includes Belle and Sebastian, Kurt Vile and actor-turned-rockstar Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxmasters.

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 3 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein is eating seasonal salads, sushi and sandwiches.

Transit May Improve Thanks to New Technology

Public transit users may luck out if Port Authority’s wristband ticketing service experiment goes well.

The 400-Word Review: Toy Story 4

Pixar's signature series comes up with an enjoyable fourth chapter. Just don't set your expectations too high.

The Latest Restaurant Openings In Pittsburgh

We say hello to three new Galley Group concepts, plus Con Alma, Over Eden and Inner Groove Brewing.

The Business of Building Cookie Table Bridges

After her cookie table bridges proved to be a hit at her own wedding, a Pittsburgh bride has taken her idea to the next level.

All You Need to Know About Fireworks in Pennsylvania

With new state fireworks laws in place, Pennsylvanians will get a little more freedom to celebrate this Fourth of July.

July 2019: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


All the County Fairs Happening This Summer in Western PA

All the County Fairs Happening This Summer in Western PA

Mark your calendars. There are 35 county fairs in western Pennsylvania this summer.

Comments

2019 Pittsburgh Area Fireworks: Where & When to Watch Them

2019 Pittsburgh Area Fireworks: Where & When to Watch Them

This booming list of fireworks displays can help you get your fill of patriotism during the long holiday week.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 3 Recent Dishes I Loved

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 3 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein is eating seasonal salads, sushi and sandwiches.

Comments

The Latest Restaurant Openings In Pittsburgh

The Latest Restaurant Openings In Pittsburgh

We say hello to three new Galley Group concepts, plus Con Alma, Over Eden and Inner Groove Brewing.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


Food, Beer and Games at the Crafty Jackalope

Food, Beer and Games at the Crafty Jackalope

The popular Bridgeville bar serves its neighborhood well.

Comments

In a Crowded City for Concerts, Rivers Casino Steps Up

In a Crowded City for Concerts, Rivers Casino Steps Up

The casino's new Events Center proves itself more than worthy of competing for big-name acts.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama

DeCastro’s Preferred Order: Fries with That, Hold the Drama

The Steelers have emerged from their offseason sessions confident they’re capable of playing better. They also maintain a new atmosphere and culture have been established. But they won’t know for certain until they actually start playing.

Comments

Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 Pick Makes a Lasting First Impression

Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 Pick Makes a Lasting First Impression

Devin Bush will still have much to prove once the pads come on and the hitting commences. But the presence and purpose he brought to OTAs justified the hype on draft day.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The 400-Word Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

This arresting debut feature about displacement by the Bay is one of the year's best films.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Toy Story 4

The 400-Word Review: Toy Story 4

Pixar's signature series comes up with an enjoyable fourth chapter. Just don't set your expectations too high.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Business of Building Cookie Table Bridges

The Business of Building Cookie Table Bridges

After her cookie table bridges proved to be a hit at her own wedding, a Pittsburgh bride has taken her idea to the next level.

Comments

The Most Popular Wedding Trends of Summer 2019

The Most Popular Wedding Trends of Summer 2019

Romantic bistro lights and balloon arrangements? Yes please.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
 PPG Paints Singin' the Blues for 2020 Color of the Year

PPG Paints Singin' the Blues for 2020 Color of the Year

Meant to offer relief from the anxieties of today’s fast-paced lifestyle, Chinese Porcelain is a mix of cobalt and ink blue. Here’s why you can expect to see more of it in the coming year.

Comments

Tiny Cabins Offer Weary Pittsburghers a Relaxing Escape

Tiny Cabins Offer Weary Pittsburghers a Relaxing Escape

Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, the elegantly minimalist cabins from Getaway are nestled in nature — and offer an unplugged experience.

Comments