Review: Durant's - Phoenix (w/ photos!)
It is a time of transitions for me.
Work has been transitioning from a fully functioning purchasing software system to a complete monster of a nightmare purchasing software that would have me pulling my hair out if I weren’t bald. Autumn officially started on Friday and I noticed how much earlier the sun is setting (hello, seasonal affective disorder!) and how nice the mornings have been. And, my niece has started school for the very first time, which is impossible because that would mean I am much older than I thought.
But the biggest transition for me is that Dave the Roommate is now Dave the Former Roommate. Oh, I could tell you about a torrid little affair that Dave and J., my fiance, had, culminating in me pulling the meat cleaver from the kitchen and chasing Dave through the streets of Arcadia. But, it wasn’t anything like that. In a nutshell, Dave the Former Roommate has found love (not J.). Well, he found it about a year ago and the happy couple decided to live together. While Dave was my roommate, he is also a very dear friend and I will miss him greatly.
I am very happy for Dave. He deserves a loveling in his life. But before he left, he wanted to take me out to a nice dinner somewhere to show his appreciation for the three years we have lived together. He also wanted to thank my parents for all of their support (i.e. Mom’s Sunday dinners) and serving as Dave’s surrogate family since his family is far away. Dave also invited Neil to dinner as well and the five of us decided that Durant’s would be a great place to have a “final dinner.”
We arrived for our 6 PM reservation - entering through the kitchen - and the place was already hopping, especially the bar that is popular with an interesting mix of people looking for a perfect martini and some conversation. We were seated at a table for six near the bar and kitchen. It was a bit noisy because of the location, but completely manageable.
Seconds after we were seated and given menus, two small relish plates were presented. Nothing fancy here, but a nice mix of carrots, celery, radishes, green onions and black olives to munch on while scanning the menu. The veggies were covered in ice to keep them crisp and cold and they were very much so. A sprinkling of salt and pepper was all that was needed. Our server approached us and took our drink order. Dad had a cup of coffee ($1.95), Dave and I had Diet Cokes ($2.00 each), Neil had an iced tea ($1.95). Mom stuck with water. Suddenly, Dave also ordered a Shirley Temple ($2.00).
I don’t understand what a fast-approaching-40 man is doing ordering a Shirley Temple either, but he was paying, so I just let it go.
Our server returned with our drinks and we were set to order. To begin our excursion, Dave requested an order of the Durant’s Debris ($8.75) for the table. Dave then ordered the Chicken Marsala ($19.95) for himself. Neil was also in a chicken mood and had the Chicken Cordon Bleu ($18.95). Dad eyed the Veal Porterhouse ($37.95) and upgraded to the Stuffed Baked Potato ($4.50 addon). Mom is a light dinner eater and settled for a large Caesar Salad ($9.25) and a Stuffed Baked Potato ($4.95). I wanted a steak and the Ribeye ($32.95) looked like it would hit the spot. I also got the stuffed potato as well. Neil decided to treat himself and ordered a Cosmopolitan Martini ($9.95) to get his palate working. Each of our entrees also came with a choice of soup or salad, but we all weren’t very keen on the Manhattan Clam Chowder, so we went with the tossed salads.
As we waited, we chatted about the 56-year history of Durant’s. My parents said the place hasn’t changed much. It is still dark and clubby, with crushed red velvet wallpaper on the walls, black leather booths, a boisterous bar, and the walls lined with the names of patrons who have managed to polish off the 48 oz. Porterhouse steak in one sitting. It is classic Americana inside, and I could only imagine the number of business deals that had been closed over a three-martini lunch in this place in the past half century.
Neil’s Cosmo arrived and it was a classic preparation. Everyone who had a sip gave it a big thumbs up. A traditional martini glass was chilled and then filled with a combination of cranberry juice, orange liquer, lime juice and Vodka. It was finished off with a twist. Perfect, refreshing and a great way to start the meal. Dave’s Shirley Temple was, I’m sure, just as skillfully made.
The Durant’s Debris arrived shortly after the cocktails. Two medium-sized skewers of chunks of beef with scallions were grilled and served with a mild mayo and chive dipping sauce. The beef was from the trimmings of the steaks that were going to be served that day. The meat was very tender, moist and had a great smokey flavor. The sauce was interesting in that it really had nothing special in it but some mayo and a few chives and possibly some sour cream, but it gave a nice balace to the meat. The taste of the beef had me ordering a glass of the featured Syrah ($5.50) just to round out my meal.
Next out came our salads. They were all simple creations of iceburg lettuce, carrots and red cabbage. Usually, Durant’s serves their salads with mixed field greens including spinach, but the recent spinach scare had them switching to a more modest presentation. I had the French Garlic dressing that was fantastic. A pinkish, thin, tangy dressing was heavy on the garlic and vinegar and gave a standard salad a great punch. Neil had the Roquefort dressing and said it was excellent.
As we munched on our salads, our server brought two bowls each containing a round of a dense, yeasty bread that was coated in olive oil and a puree of parsley and garlic. We have had this bread before and we all dove in to claim our piece. The bread was soft and delicious and the puree and oil was outstanding. It was such an easy preparation that turned a plain loaf of bread into something that could start fights at the dinner table.
We waited about 15 minutes before our meals arrived after we had finished our salads and laid waste to the last morsels of the bread. Mom’s arrived first. A large bowl of Caesar salad was sat in front of here and next to it on a side plate was her stuffed baked potato. Mom said she adored the Caesar salad. The dressing was heavy on garlic, light on the anchovies and bursting with flavor. Thankfully, the salad had not be drowned in the dressing. Her stuffed baked potato was picture perfect with a crusty top. Mom said she loved the stuffed baked potatoes at Durant’s because it is one of the few places in town that doesn’t overwhelm the filling with cheese. “It’s always a perfect balance,” she noted.
Dad’s Veal Porterhouse was beautiful. The steak was about 1.25 inches thick and topped with extra crispy peppered onion straws. The char marks on the outside gave the meat a rustic look and Dad - who usually douses his meats with a variety of sauces - balked at the idea of putting anything on this cut of meat. He said the meat was perfectly cooked to medium rare and had a richness in it that was unexpected. The onions on top were just an added bonus. He must have enjoyed it since he ate every scrap of meat on the bone and plate. He also devoured the stuffed baked potato.
Neil’s Chicken Cordon Bleu looked very good. It was quite a large portion as well, with two mesquite-broiled chicken breasts hiding under a hefty layer of Mornay sauce, bacon, mushrooms and Provolone cheese. Neil said Durant’s take on the dish was quite good and a nice break from the ham/cheese/chicken combo. He particularly liked the flavor the mesquite wood added to the mix. He decided to go with a simple baked potato for his side dish and had no complaints about it.
Dave’s Chicken Marsala had a wonderful aroma as it passed by. Two more of the broiled chicken breasts found their way under a generous serving of marsala sauce. The garlic mashed potatoes looks just as good as the chicken. Dave said he really enjoyed the flavor of the Chicken Marsala, but felt the portion size should have been greater. Neil and I wondered about that because it looked similar in size to Neil’s Chicken Cordon Bleu and Neil stated he was stuffed after his meal. Dave admitted he may have just been extra hungry, but he did enjoy the meal thoroughly.
My Ribeye was superb. The mesquite wood did wonders and the natural marbling of the steak made this a winner for me. It was cooked exactly as requested (medium rare) and the somewhat crunchy char on the sides was an added bonus. The meat was tender, moist and exceptionally flavorful. The 18 oz. of beef also was plenty for the serving and the heartiness of the meat was enough to have me straining to finish all of my steak. The stuffed baked potato was excellent, just as Mom had said. While Mom liked the balance of the ingredients, I loved the fact that the potato had been scraped down inside to about an 1/8th of an inch so that the stuffing was the bulk of the potato and not just a clever topping. The potato skin was hot and crisp and the filling was outstanding.
During my meal, I had forgotten that I had ordered a glass of wine and reminded my server. She returned with an unopened bottle of the Syrah and pour a portion substantially bigger than the normal portion. She then said that the wine was on the house because she had forgotten to bring it. Nice! Unnecessary and unexpected, but very classy and great customer service. The wine was very good and really brought out the flavors of the beef as well.
We had now been satisfied with an wonderful meal. It was pure Durant’s. Simple, hearty, elegant. That has always been Durant’s. We didn’t think we would have room for dinner, but Neil reminded us that we had lifetime free desserts at Durant’s. You see, back in 2000, when Durant’s was celebrating its 50th Anniversary, during the anniversary month, they gave all patrons who dined at Durant’s tokens for free lifetime desserts. We had three tokens and used them liberally. We ordered the Key Lime Pie (normally $7.95), the Chocolate Brownie Pie (normally $7.95) and the Trio of Creme Brulee (normally $11.50). We sat and chatted to pass the time as we waited for our desserts.
The Chocolate Brownie Pie was massive. Two thick brownies were holding together a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the whole thing was topped with chocolate sauce and chopped nuts. Fresh whipped cream and a sprig of mint were the finishing touches. The brownies were dense and very chocolatey. I loved the fact that they were chewy as well. The ice cream faded into the background because of the rich brownies, but did help to cut that richness. The chocolate sauce, nuts, and whipped cream made me think it was more of a sundae than a pie. This was a big hit at the table.
Contrasting the heavy brownie pie was the Key Lime Pie. The large slice was a muted yellow in color but packed a wallop in taste. It was killer tart with lots of lime juice and little sugar. The pie was set in two layers with the bottom being more like cheesecake and the top that reminded me of pudding. The crust was a fresh graham cracker crust creation. The pie was then topped with whipped cream and a plain profiterole. It was one of the better key lime pies I have had. We all thought it was superior to the general mess called Key Lime Pie that features neon green filling.
The winner of the desserts for me was the Trio of Brulee. I am a big fan of creme brulee and I adored the fact that Durant’s served a nice mix: Classic, Chocolate and Mixed Berry. The classic brulee was sublime with a creamy interior hidden beneath a glass ceiling of burnt sugar. The chocolate brulee was silky smooth with a dark chocolate taste. The mixed berry brulee was wonderful as well. I loved the mix of raspberries and blackberries in the brulee. The large blackberry sitting atop the dish was a nice bonus. Of the three, I still preferred the classic presentation. Marvelous at Durant’s, to be sure. The others were very good, but I wrecked my full enjoyment of the mixed berry brulee because I had the sweeter ones first, which colored my palate. Others at the table were big fans of the chocolate.
We finished our meals and Dave requested the bill. The total was $176.05 including tax. The dessert comp totaled $27.50, so that would have brought our meals to around $200.00. Considering the quality of food, the charm, and the history, we all thought this was a bargain. The service was very professional and perfect for the Durant’s setting. (And a special kudos to the bus staff who were always on top of keeping drinks topped off and plates cleared.)
Our exit out the kitchen gave us a chance to thank the gaggle of staff that had worked on our meal. I have always thought that you must have confidence in your kitchen to have your patrons walk through it to get to their vehicles.
Waiting for our cars, Dave approached me and thanked me for three great years of sharing a domicile. “I am going to miss you, my friend” he said. Sure, he will only be a few miles away, but that night, I noted how quiet the house was, like a home where all the children had grown up and moved away.
Dave and I will always be close friends and I was going to give him a gift of some sort. Maybe a little something for the new home or a cookbook or a lava lamp. But, I figured something from the heart would be better.
Dave, I hope this brings back memories for you:
Thank you, my friend.
2611 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Dress: Upscale Casual to Formal
Hours: Monday through Thursday - 11 AM to 10 PM; Friday - 11 AM to 11 PM; Saturday - 5 PM to 11 PM; Sunday - 4:30 PM to 10 PM
Notes: Due to light rail construction, enter from 3rd Street and Virginia. Valet parking available. Enter through the kitchen.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Curious to know...
This is from today's paper re. steakhouses... agree or not?
Q: I don't care about cost. Where's the best steak in the Valley?
A: The dry-aged porterhouse ($53) at the Grill at TPC (Fairmont Scottsdale Princess) has no equal.
You will never eat better filet mignon (10-ounce, $37, and 14-ounce, $46) than you'll have at Donovan's in Phoenix.
And there isn't a bad cut in the house at Mastro's in north Scottsdale.
Details: The Grill at TPC at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 17020 N. Hayden Road, (480) 585-4848, www.fairmont.com; Donovan's Steak & Chop House, 3101 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix. (602) 955-3666, www.donovanssteak house.com; Mastro's Steakhouse, 8852 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale. (480) 585-9500, www.mastros steakhouse.com.
My parents went a few months ago with another couple and said they would never go back. Said they steaks were tough and had better prime rib at Firebirds. The said the service was awful to. I hope they just had an off night as it seems everyone here has enjoyed their visits.
I certainly won't deny that Durant's, like all restaurants, would have a bad night, but I think that is truly more the exception than the rule. I get to Durant's a few times a year and with the exception of an overcooked steak many years ago, I have always had an excellent experience.
I hope your family said something to the manager about the food and service. I would think they would go out of their way to make good on the situation.
I love our free dessert tokens! What a deal! The creme brulee trio is always delightful.
And the stone crab is wonderful when it's in season. We love to just sit at the bar, order the seafood platter and visit with the bartenders on a casual night.
Birthdays are pretty much always at Durant's.
It's all about the little things.
They pour Evian, and no, they don't ask the annoying "bottled or tap?". You don't have a "water - 2.95" on your bill.
The wait and bus staff are top notch.
The guys in the kitchen smile and greet you when you walk in. And when you leave they bid you a good night.
The bartenders are professional bartenders - not part timers.
I'm not a big fan of smoking sections, but something about the smoking area in the bar at Durant's just seems right.
They serve stone crab during season - one of the only places in town to do so.
I hope to take my kids there for their first grown up/old Phoenix dinner like my parents did.
In a recent post in another thread, I think I described the seating at Durant's as "red vinyl." It appears I got that detail wrong. The red vs. black distinction I can explain by way of my colorblindness. As for underestimating the quality of material in the seats, that's an inexcusable error on my part, and if anyone from Durant's is reading, I apologize.
In any case, Durant's sometimes gets overlooked in favor of newer, trendier spots, so this review is a great testimonial to a classic that should never be forgotten.
I think we are both right. Depending on which section of the restaurant you are in, some of the seating is black and some red (I think the ones in the secondary dining room in the southern part of the restaurant).
Either/or, it is completely overshadowed by the wonderfully classic crushed red velvet wallpaper. :o)