For chefs Kendyl Ryan and Dan Rodriguez, a meal isn’t just about food. It’s about connection.
The couple has hosted monthly, five-course dinners at their Duncan Street apartment in Lawrenceville since 2014. The gourmet gatherings started out as a chance to commune with close friends and culinary mentors over eclectic dishes. But Duncan Street Dinners are now open to the public in a different, but still homey, setting.
Ryan and Rodriguez crossed the river to Millvale and opened Duncan Street Sandwich Shop — which is actually located on North Avenue — to host their swanky suppers while also serving grab-and-go eats that are unlike any sandwiches in the city.
Ditching lunch meat for big cuts of chicken, pork and turkey, the hand-held meals come on thick slices of rustic, handmade bread and don’t adhere to the lettuce-tomato-mayo format.
The Smoked Chicken, for example, is topped with herb aioli, onion jam, cucumber and basil. The vegan Roasted Mushroom is smothered in roasted garlic, caramelized onion, mushroom jus and Montreal seasoning. All of the four options are $10 and for five extra bucks you can add a homemade soda and a side such as coconut-braised beans, roasted carrots, chickpea salad or spicy mushroom soup.
Other veggie-focused options include the Smoked Grape Salad and the Not a Cobb Salad (that’s mixed greens and romaine with chorizo vinaigrette, pickled egg, shaved manchego and almonds).
The menu will change with the seasons and available produce.
While there is no seating for sandwich eaters, patrons are welcome to stand at the rail and enjoy their lunch. In warm weather, the patio is open to people (and pups) who want to relax with some BYOB wine and beer.
Partnerships with local breweries are in the works that will earn customers discounts for visiting both the beer and sandwich establishments.
A back room — which the couple says reminds them of their own living room — is reserved for the 12-seat Duncan Street Dinner parties, which will be held Dec. 6, 7 and 8. Cocktails precede the meal and wine pairings are offered with each of the five courses, which are themed. Past shindigs have included foods from different nations and nontraditional takes on Thanksgiving favorites.
Folks can reserve a space online on a first come, first served basis. (The $100 Dec. 7 event is already sold out.) Potential guests can find out about upcoming dinners by joining the Duncan Street mailing list by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan, of Bethel Park, and Rodriguez, a transplant from upstate New York, met in college and worked together in the kitchen at Soba before opening their home to foodies tired of the restaurant scene.
The laidback nature of the sandwich joint is a nice balance to their full-blown dinner affairs. Located in a former barbershop turned bakery, the tiny storefront welcomes long-time residents who stop by to grab lunch and share stories about Millvale’s history.
“The best thing about being where we are is that it’s a perfect representation of what Pittsburgh is to me,” Ryan says. “Everyone walking through the door is so drastically different. You have old-timers mixed with young people moving into the area. People from every walk of life. It’s basically a big open kitchen and we get to have interesting conversations while making sandwiches.”