Two Dads Chef Matthew Denny began his career working in Florida restaurants, from the original Bonefish Grill in St. Pete to Pine 22 burger joint in Orlando and O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille in Gulfport. But Denny was cooking for family long before that.
Although his parents have their staple dishes — Denny raves about his mom’s beef Bourguignon and dad’s spaghetti — cooking isn’t their thing.
“I took it upon myself to learn how to cook from a very young age,” Denny told the Gabber. “Since then, I’ve been providing meals for my family and friends.”
Denny cut his teeth on Mexican food and classic Italian-American dishes like spaghetti and meatballs. But his personal favorite kind of food is Asian, especially Japanese food.
“If I can go to an Asian steakhouse anytime, I’m there,” Denny said. “The Hibachi grill where they’re cooking it all in front of you — I absolutely love that. That would probably be the main source of my inspiration for just about everything.”
Asian influences abound on Two Dads’ menu, which includes an Asian Rice Bowl, Southeast Asian Beef Sandwich, Tuna Poke Bowl, and Roasted Sweet Chili Pork Belly Bánh Mì.
NY strip and pork belly — both common in Asian comfort food — feature prominently on the menu. Denny spent most of the pandemic perfecting the two meats. Now, NY strip is a Two Dads bestseller.
Outside of Asian dishes, Denny cooks a significant amount of classic American comfort food. The same NY strip in the Southeast Asian Beef Sandwich forms the base of Two Dads’ Philly and NY Strip sandwiches. And the same pork belly in the Bánh Mì stars in a BBQ pork sandwich and in Two Dads’ Heart Stopper – Denny’s unique take on a BLT.
In addition to American and Asian comfort foods, Denny also highlights classic Mexican-American flavors. I’ll admit that seeing Bahn Mi and burritos on the same menu, along with meatloaf and macaroni and cheese, threw me initially. But after sampling some of the food and having a conversation with Denny, I totally get it.
“I like to find something they don’t normally have, or something they haven’t had in a long time,” Denny said.
Denny enjoys this same combination of familiar and surprising when cooking for family. Denny says he definitely cooks their favorites, but what he really enjoys is showing them something new.
He mentions exotic fish as an example. Although seafood isn’t the focus at Two Dads, at home Denny enjoys cooking local mangrove snapper when it’s in season and experimenting with exotic fish like Opah from Hawaii. Here again, he enjoys the familiar (snapper) but delights in the challenge of preparing something with fresh ingredients he’s never used before, like Opah.
Denny and Two Dads owner Ryan Bernat joked about the overused phrase, “The most important ingredient is love.”
For Denny, that means making everything as though you’re making it for yourself or for your family,” he said. “My mom’s a social worker at St. Anthony’s Hospital and she treats everyone as if they’re her own family. I take that same spirit into my cooking.”
More at twodadstakeout.com.