Durant's: The post I never thought I would write (PHX)
When someone asks me what the quintessential restaurant in Phoenix would be, I steer them towards Durant's.
Durant's opened in 1950 and has been a rock solid choice for an old school steakhouse complete with red velvet wallpaper, tuxedo clad servers, classic martinis and an excellent menu that featured wonderful steaks and chops. Durant's was the place for the "three martini lunch" and who knows how many business deals have been closed at the little pink building at the corner of Central Avenue and Virginia in Phoenix.
Was Durant's the best restaurant in Phoenix? No, but it was a wonderful experience and a good meal. You knew that the menu was going to be the same with no surprises and its selection of chops and steaks was pure comfort food. In fact, it was someplace you could rely on for consistency.
For the past 25 or so years, I and my family and/or friends have religiously gone to Durant's for dinner on Christmas Eve. It was always something to look forward to and we would make our reservations in August to ensure we had a table.
Last night, four of us walked into Durant's for a meal and left sadly disappointed.
Apparently, two months ago, a new Executive Chef was hired at Durant's and he or she clearly wanted to make changes. Unfortunately, I am at a loss as to understand what the new EC is shooting for.
We first noticed that the prices had skyrocketed since our last visit earlier this year. I am not talking about a dollar or two, but a $16 chicken entree was now $22.50. The filet mignon was now a whopping $40, and I was in complete shock when our server told us that the special of a small filet with three (3) Gulf shrimp would set us back an astounding $48 and change.
Then, there was the debacle of the Chicken Cordon Blue. In the past, this dish was fairly classic with a boneless pounded chicken breast, ham, cheese and a light mushroom sauce served with a choice of potato. Sometimes, there would be a bit of license with bacon substituting for the ham, but it was a hearty, solid dish.
Now, under the new EC, the Chicken Cordon Blue is two small pieces of bone-in chicken wrapped in prosciutto. No cheese, no sauce, just chicken nuggets with bone wrapped in Italian ham.
Our server let it slip that when the new EC came aboard, he or she decided to scrap the "Durant's bread," a heavenly round loaf of soft, salty bread covered with butter, garlic and minced leeks. Our server said so many people called to complain that the owner added it back in order to keep the torches and pitchforks from arriving at the front door.
The dessert menu was also redone with one of the most popular desserts (the Brownie Sunday) was scrapped in favor of "Chocolate Indulgence Cake." We tried some of the desserts and found them less than stellar.
After our meal, I spoke to our server and said that I failed to understand why Durant's had fiddled with the menu. I said I was, for the first time, disappointed in my meal at Durant's. Our server indicated that I was not alone in my thoughts and encouraged me to send a letter to the owner expressing my disappointment.
One of my guests said it best when he said, "Change for the sake of change doesn't mean something good is going to come out of it." Bingo! For 50+ years, Durant's was the epitome of a consistent restaurant with a consistent menu. They had built up a following and now that formula seems to be monkeyed with for the sake of the new EC.
As we drove home, I wondered allowed if I would be spending another Christmas Eve at Durant's. I will write my letter to the owner and see what the response is, but for right now, I am already making plans for someplace else to dine.
2611 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004
I remember back around 1993 or 1994 something similar happened to Durant's. The restaurant was going to redefine itself with a new menu and a new direction. I remember going there with a large group for one last celebration of the old Durant's. It turns out that our last supper at the old Durant's was unnecessary, although certainly enjoyable. Within a few months, Durant's was the same as it ever was. My guess and hope is that something similar will happen in 2008. A few new entrees showcasing a chef's personal touch are certainly welcome, but there's no need to tinker with the classics already on the menu. As for the prices, some increase over time is inevitable due to rising costs, but the increases I see on the Web site menu are dramatic and probably should have been phased in much more gradually.
I certainly join Silverbear in his hope that this too will pass. Sigh. I feel your pain. even the title of your post made me sad: I just knew it couldn't be good news. Let's hope the new year sees a change back for the better!
Do report back on any response you get to your letter..
You just broke my heart (again)! I am sorry to hear that Durant's has fallen prey to the "Steakhouse Craze," and jumped into the deep end, with both feet.
This will be a big blow to my wife, as she's one of those "deal-makers," who has lunch, w/o the 3 Martinits. We usually do it about 3x per year, and have been more than satisfied for almost 10 years now.
As for prices, I suspect that some bean-counter, who has a flashy MBA, but no restaurant savvy worked the prices. Heck, I still recall drinking the last bottle of the '96 Ch. St. Jean Cinq Cepages @ $55/btl., even after it received Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. I saw that wine jump from ~ $75 to $450/btl. at some other steakhouses. The reason was, "because we can get it." That now sounds like the plan for Durant's.
Sorry to hear that an "old friend" has gone so far downhill. Your guest is correct, "change for the sake of change," is not a good thing. Guess it'll be Capital Grille in the future, for us, with a tear in our eyes.
Prime Rib - I do not think that I have ever ordered this, except at various funcitons from the Country Club to, fill-in-the-blank dinners for various charity organizations, and then, only when it was the only beef offered. Does/did Durant's have a good take on this popular, but often fatty dish?
Still, Seth breaks my heart. My wife has not commented yet, and she does lunch there on a regular basis. Maybe she's been in the air, more than on the ground, or has not been, since the change. I'm waiting for her report. Don't know that she'd comment on the price, that much, but if the quality and the service are out of whack - well, watch out!
re: Bill Hunt
As I said, there were a number of us there and all of us were not pleased with the changes. While I will concede that the Prime Rib may still be the same price, certainly the filet was not, nor was the Chicken Cordon Bleu ($16.00 to $22.50), and, from what sb stated, the Crab Cakes jumped up as well.
I think it is also important to point out that my concerns were about the price point increase and the changes in the menu. While our meals themselves were good (save the Chicken C.B.), I was scratching my head trying to find the justification for a -roughly- 25-30% increase in price. And, we went with expectations of the Durant's menu we had come to know and love for the past 27 years.
Other people may like the changes and don't mind the hefty price increases. But we specifically when to Durant's on Christmas Eve because it was reliable comfort food.
I am sure I was not alone in wanting that.
re: Bill Hunt
Their Prime Rib is no different than any other place (and by that, i mean any other decent steakhouse). I just really like prime rib. It is a little fattier than say the porterhouse, but it is all on the outside of the steak and just adds flavor. Plus Durant's and Cork N Cleaver have perfected it my opinion. I also like cuts of meat where there is some fat in thin strips. I just like to thing of it as EXTREME KOBE!!! So my opinion may be worthless when it comes to red meat. (btw, the extreme kobe part is a joke.)
Even great food can't save bad service though. I worked my way through college waiting tables, so I have a respect for servers, but also know what to expect out of them (as I am sure most of you do too.)
Honestly though, I haven't been since last year this time. I am going tomorrow night for my Birthday. Its tradition, I guess kinda like it was for Seth and the holidays. My gf's family is really opinionated, so I am sure I will get the group consensus on the changes made. They are an old AZ family that hates changes. Should be fun.
Now, we will expect a detailed report, even though you are with guests. To think that Durant's has changed, so drastically, is something that most AZ CH's hate to face.
I hope that your birthday celebration is a great one, and maybe we've all expected too much, for too long.
Regardless, happy birthday,
re: Bill Hunt
So I found Durant's to me just as good as it was the last time I was there about a year ago. The prices may have gone up a tad, but all of our steaks were primo. We started with 2 Shrimp CocktaiIs, which you can't really mess up, but they excel at because they use atomic horseradish. For the meal, I had the Veal Porterhouse (41.50), my gf had the petite filet (40.50), her dad had the larger filet (49.95), and her mom had the bone-in rib eye (35.95). All were cooked to our specifications and we thoroughly enjoyed them. We had a couple bottles of Seghesio Zinfandel, which were moderately priced at $36 (retails at around 20.00, or 16.99 at Costco). For dessert, they ordered the trey of creme brulee which they really enjoyed. I got a grasshopper, which I do every time I am there because they make it with ice cream. soooooo good.
They had a good crowd, but I service didn't reflect that at all. We we always kept with full glasses of water and checked on routinely. I don't mind paying a little more to keep a place like that alive. Besides, it is no more expensive then what you would pay for at a premium steakhouse that serves the same quality steak served by snooty servers in a pretentious atmosphere. I for one won't hesitate to return.
that just breaks my heart. it makes me wonder what was management thinking..no one goes to durants to try some artiste of a chef's take on deconstructed classics. one goes to durants FOR the classics, and the whole schtick - the relish tray, the wallpaper, the banquettes, the whole deal!!!! that someone would even think it OK to get rid of the garlicky buttery fantastic bread is ridiculous!!!!!!
bring back old durants!!