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The Devonshire trail: Restaurants give Pittsburgh specialty their own tasty touches

Friday, September 21, 2001

By Woodene Merriman, Post-Gazette Dining Critic

Dick Stadler of Squirrel Hill was looking for a good Devonshire sandwich. A friend suggested the Union Grill on Craig Street in Oakland. "Best I've tasted since the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the Press Club," she said.

Victor Tome, chef at Union Grill, says of its Devonshire sandwich sauce: "It's a simple recipe: heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, a cornstarch slurry, salt and pepper." (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

So Stadler and friends went off to try the Devonshires on a Saturday night. Here's his report, via e-mail:

"The sound level in that place was unbelievable. But fortunately, so were the Devonshires. Five of the six of us devoured them and my formerly-from-Pittsburgh friends, now satiated, returned happily the next day to Naples [Fla.].

"For my part, as I took that first delicious bite, I closed my eyes, shut out the din and I was back at the Press Club enjoying a quiet lunch ... and savoring their memorable Devonshire. As 'they' say, 'It was deja vu all over again.' "

With a recommendation like that, I could hardly wait to go back to the Union Grill. "Get your ear plugs," I urged His Honor, and we were off.

It was a week night but, as always, the Union Grill was busy. I ordered the Devonshire and a glass of Yuengling porter on draft, but Spoil Sport insisted on having salmon instead. I heard grumblings about high fat, high cholesterol, loaded with calories, heart attack on a plate, etc., as he turned to watch the TV.

Union Grill does, indeed, serve a fine Devonshire, the open-face meal-on-a-plate created here in Pittsburgh. It's as much a part of the 'Burgh as Isaly's chipped ham or fries on your salad, but few restaurants offer it any more.

Union Grill's Devonshire starts with a thick slice (about one-third inch) of turkey, roasted on site, placed on a thick, hardly toasted slice of bread. On top are a couple of slices of red tomato, then a thick blanket of pale yellow, bubbling cheese sauce. A sprinkling of parsley and two crisp pieces of bacon top it off. The sandwich is heated in the salamander just before serving, and comes to the table very hot, some of the sauce dripping off the edges onto the serving plate under it. It sells for $9.95.

I would have preferred thin, crisp toast points as the base. The thick slice of bread was too hard to cut. The sauce, though good, was baffling.

"We use Parmesan cheese," Union Grill chef Victor Tome told me later when I called him. "It's a simple recipe: heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, a cornstarch slurry, salt and pepper."

The Devonshires are so popular he sells 15 to 20 each night at the Oakland restaurant, and 10 or so at their Mt. Lebanon location. The sandwiches are identical at each location.

Union Grill, 413 S. Craig St., Oakland, 412-681-8620, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

In Mt. Lebanon, Union Grill 2, 3105 Banksville Road, 412-341-4243, the hours are the same, but the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.

Frenchy's Restaurant

The Devonshire at Frenchy's, Downtown, is quite different. Starting with a thin slice of toast, it has crisp bacon (lots of it), thinly sliced turkey breast, and a soft, almost custard-like sauce over the top. It is lightly broiled, sprinkled with fresh parsley, and served in a hot casserole with a side salad. Price: $7.95.

This is the only Devonshire I've had with the bacon inside. Because the turkey slices are on top of the bacon, it isn't softened by the sauce. Chef Lonnie Mattox describes it as a cream sauce made with some chicken base, plus Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. He's been making it the same way for 38 years, and believes it was on the menu three years before that.

Frenchy's Restaurant, 136 Sixth St., Downtown, 412-261-6476, is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, except Sunday. The Devonshire is on the lunch menu, but can be ordered at dinner.

Peter's Place

Mike Peters has a special reason for keeping a Devonshire on the Peter's Place menu: It was created by the late Frank Blandi, who owned Gregory's on Washington Pike before it was sold to Mike and his brother Bill in 1985, and became Peter's Place.

So the chicken Devonshire is a menu regular at Peter's Place for lunch, and if you ask, you can have it for dinner. This Devonshire has sliced baked chicken breast on toast points, covered with a sauce made of Cheddar, milk, butter and chicken base. Crisp bacon slices are on top. Price: $5.95. Sometimes a turkey Devonshire is available.

Frank Blandi is probably best known as the proprietor of the fondly remembered Park Schenley restaurant in Oakland, although he ran other restaurants during his career. As a new Post-Gazette food writer in the late 1970s, I interviewed him to write a story about the origin of the dish. As we talked and the photographer snapped pictures, he made one for me.

Peter's Place, 1199 Washington Pike, Bridgeville, 412-221-5000, is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Dunning's Grill

Paul Hartman fell in love with the Devonshire when he was a little boy, and ate them at the old Sir Loin in Squirrel Hill. When Dunning's Grill in Regent Square opened in September 1983, he said, "We've got to have Devonshires." He's the chef, so they do.

He makes turkey, vegetable, Cajun chicken, grilled chicken and snow crab meat Devonshires and sometimes other special Devonshires. (Don't ask for albacore tuna Devonshire, though. That one didn't go.)

Twice a week he makes three gallons of the sauce -- Cheddar cheese, hot milk, chicken stock, a roux of butter and flour, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and cayenne pepper. "It's a heavy sauce," he says, but the amounts are his secret. One man comes in from San Francisco five or six times a year, and always has a Devonshire.

Served with a side dish of your choice, a turkey Devonshire, is $7.50; vegetable, $6.95; Cajun chicken, $7.95; grilled chicken, $7.50; snow crab, $8.95. They can be ordered at lunch or dinner.

Dunning's Grill, 1100 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square (412-243-3900), is open 11:30 a.m.-10:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Surely there are other Pittsburgh area restaurants that have Devonshires on the menu. I've probably missed several good ones. If you can recommend a good Devonshire not mentioned here, let me know and I'll pass the word along.

Woodene Merriman can be reached by e-mail at wmerriman@post-gazette.com, or by writing to her at the Post-Gazette, 34 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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