'Nooners' and Wine at Metro Phoenix's Legendary Sandwich Deli

Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix

33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter

As any longtime regular will tell you, Duck & Decanter is more than just a sandwich shop.

"The Duck," as it's known to regulars, has been something of a local trailblazer. Duck & Decanter helped popularize the casual, counter-service neighborhood hang-out space in metro Phoenix — the kind of "third place" spot where you can grab a sandwich, down an espresso, shop for gourmet food items, and hang out on the patio for long stretches of time.

Owners Dort and Earl Mettler opened the original location of Duck & Decanter in 1972 near 16th Street and Camelback Road. Over the years, Phoenicians have watched the beloved local chain expand and contract with the changing times; at one time, Duck & Decanter had locations in Scottsdale, Tempe, and downtown Phoenix.

Today, the sole remaining Duck & Decanter location is situated just east of its original address, tucked deep into the shopping center anchored by uptown Phoenix's "small-format" Target store near 16th Street and Camelback.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is the friendly ambiance. Duck & Decanter, which is housed in an intriguing A-frame house, feels like a laid-back oasis in the middle of the city.

click to enlarge Duck & Decanter is a deli, but it's also a gourmet cheese shop. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Duck & Decanter is a deli, but it's also a gourmet cheese shop.
Patricia Escarcega
You'll probably want to linger over the impressive selection of import cheeses, or lose yourself in The Duck's small but well-stocked marketplace. Here you'll find everything from kitchen gadgets to gourmet teas to an extensive selection of spices. There's also a coffee bar, a wine shop, and a wine and craft beer bar. There's plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The place you want to be, though, when the weather is kind, is outdoors on the sprawling patio, which is shaded by towering eucalyptus trees.

You place your order at the counter, and whatever you pick, it will come neatly packed in the deli's iconic oversize brown paper bags, which have the words "Nooner" emblazoned in bold print. Duck & Decanter's thickly built sandwiches are officially called "nooners," a nickname that's been known to make Urban Dictionary scholars giggle awkwardly at the lunch counter.

You can build your own "nooner," or you can pick from the restaurant's menu of signature sandwiches. The Duckling is a house favorite, a sweet-savory sandwich that conjures a small autumnal feast. It's packed with a couple solid inches of smoked duck breast and smoked turkey breast, which are skillfully paired with a sweet, tangy cranberry-walnut relish. The whole thing is buttressed by two thick-cut, fluffy slices of country bread.

Another highlight is the simple yet exquisite Vermont Treat, made with honey glazed ham, pine nuts, sliced apples, and Duck & Decanter’s homemade cheddar cheese spread.

If you can swing it, pair your sandwich with one of The Duck's wonderful deli sides, like the impossibly creamy herb chicken salad. A small container isn't cheap, but someone will happily provide samples before you splurge on a whole container.

Is Duck & Decanter the most efficient, economical, or even most convenient lunch destination in metro Phoenix? Negative. But it's a consistently great place to unwind, shop, and possibly discover your next favorite bottle of wine.

Plus, who in their right mind would ever turn down a really great nooner?

click to enlarge Browsing the wine racks is part of the Duck & Decanter experience. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Browsing the wine racks is part of the Duck & Decanter experience.
Patricia Escarcega
The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter