Often people will go into a restaurant expecting something other than what it is designed to provide. An upscale, white tablecloth place, for instance, doesn't make the same promise that a drive in fast food restaurant does and vice versa.
One of the first responsibilities that we as diners have is to be aware of where we are going, what the concept is and what the expectation should be.
If you go to a neighborhood restaurant with a $6 average meal, you will not get, nor should you expect to get, the same service and ambience you will get at a four-star establishment. So when I hear things from people about a particular place, the first thing I do is apply those guidelines. Are they upset because they didn't get white tablecloth service in a neighborhood diner? Or are their expectations reasonable? Do I mean that you should compromise your standards; not at all. But at $6-$7 per plate, the experience is more about comfort, efficiency and expedience, and the food should be fresh, tasty and plentiful.
A fine dining service person might have three or four tables, while a local diner server may have six or seven. Not that waiting on three tables is easy, it's just different. And the good ones are pouring coffee and clearing plates for each other on their tables, too. Keep my coffee topped off, look my way or come by my table so I feel attended to, and otherwise leave me alone.
Saturday and Sunday mornings for many are all about starting out the day by going out for breakfast. We read the paper, catch up with family who we don't get to spend a lot of time with during the week, or just relax and enjoy someone else doing the work for a change. Every neighborhood has a diner or two that caters to this weekend ritual and often they are tucked into a strip center, in an old building, maybe a free standing operation, but as often as not, if you don't know they're there, they're easy to miss.
Such is the case with Duffy's Home Cooking Place, at 15th and Lewis. The front windows are covered with professionally hand-painted signs advertising special meals and hours.
On this particular Sunday, it was busy and running like a well oiled machine. Tables were turning quickly, but I felt no pressure to leave until I was ready.
Duffy's has the look and feel of a place that has seen a LOT of traffic. That is to say, it is well worn but clean. My waitress told me it has been in existence for more than 17 years. That's a lot of foot traffic, and I could just imagine how many people had traveled the aisle between those tables. Local adverts adorn the table tops, and it was fun to see which Midtown entrepreneurs have chosen to put their enlarged business cards and ads under the clear coated tabletop.
If you think about it, it's probably some of the most permanent forms of advertising you can get for the money.
Often, since we are not The New York Times and I can't visit each place two or three times before I review it, I order something a little off the beaten path and ask them to change an ingredient to see how they handle the special request. This gives me a little bit of an idea of the kitchen's flexibility, and the dining room's willingness to turn in an order that is a little bit of a challenge.
I was impressed with the selection of menu items available. Everyone has eggs and pancakes, (and by the way, my pancake was the size of a hub cap off an old Lincoln and was sweet and fluffy with strong overtones of good vanilla that doesn't "cook out"). Additionally though, Duffy's has eggs and pork chops, eggs and steak, eggs and smoked pork chops, eggs and lobster, (OK, I might be kidding about the lobster part) and on and on. It's a great selection of options and a bit more comprehensive than a lot of other places in town. A chalkboard greets you at the door with the specials of the day, and someone shouts, "Sit anywhere you like!" Just like home; I love it!
My choice was Eggs Benedict. I asked for it without the ham and a layer of corned beef hash in its place pressed on the griddle to make it crusty on each side. My server said yes without more than a second's hesitation.
The order went in at 10:07am; the food was in front of me at 10:15; fresh, steaming hot, bountiful and tasty.
In the restaurant industry a 10-minute ticket time is the goal most places strive for. It's realistic, and it gels with the attention span of the average American, so to get it out in eight minutes, as busy as they were, is excellent. It was SO hot in fact that I had to blow on each bite for the first three or four minutes.
I love shredded, fresh hash browns -- brown and crispy from the griddle, done to order and piled next to my eggs, so I can mix it all together into my own hash. And that's exactly what I got. Crusty and caramelized on the outside, steamy and starchy in the middle. One of my pet peeves is getting a breakfast plate with a pile of deep fried, frozen potato cubes -- or worse, a fried, shaped potato cake.
The eggs Benedict were excellent, a nice layer of corned beef hash on top of an English muffin, topped with two perfectly poached eggs and smothered in hollandaise sauce.
The sauce is a canned mix, but a tasty one, which is a good thing these days because of the concerns about salmonella. I shudder to think about how many times as young line cooks we would make a hollandaise at the beginning of service and use it all night long as it sat in a lukewarm pot on the hot line, so it didn't "break." There just wasn't the awareness that there is today. But ... I digress.
All in all, I found it to be everything I would expect from a local, neighborhood diner and breakfast place. It is exactly what it promises to be. We are all creatures of habit to one degree or another and tend to stick with a place when we find one that fits us, especially weekend breakfast establishments. But if you're in the mood for a change some weekend, check out Duffy's. It's worth it.
Duffy's Home Cooking Place
2424 E. 15th St.
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