Murray Hill, NY
Review by dieFledermaus, SuSu, Diana, MaceVindaloo, BrennansBoy, 'Carnations, MostlyIrish, MavenGrrl, Jools
We were also told it's rather "frat housish" in the fantasy Animal House sense, meaning attractive young people boozing and hollering a lot. Like several decades ago when the 1950s was recreated by those nostalgic for a time that never was, this is like a recurrance of the 1980s. It's been a big fad, at least in this town, to "play hicksville." There is a bar brightly lit with neon, and the dining room is a bunch of tacky looking booths and tables straight out of the Beav's kitchen.
The waitresses, we were told, are beautiful, and indeed they are. They are all uniformly short and seem to have very little experience as waitresses. But they were responsive and friendly -- the most important thing for honkytonk style service. And, as we said, they are beautiful.
Our waitress was particularly beautiful, rounded in all the right places (not scrawny, which would have made us self-conscious), and helpful in many ways. She wasn't pushy, but about half our largish party was late coming in, and she came by to ask if we'd like drinks or appetizers. We ordered a double order of chicken wings and an artichoke cheese dip with nachos, which were actually quite good. These items are sort of a litmus test, in that they're often done really badly, especially if bought prepped/frozen for a quick flashfry or nuking before serving. These did not come out too fast -- just the right amount of time that they were at least prepped and plated with care.
Every Tuesday, they have a Trivia night, where each table may enter as a team to win a $100 voucher for a sister restaurant, up the street. Our team actually came in first in Round 2, then won the voucher in the drawing at the end of the evening! Heck, we ARE rather trivial types. In Round 1, a table of 10 blondes had won by shimmying up to the bar and asking various gullible men for answers to questions like "What's Dan Marino's touchdown pass record?" Then when they won, they cheered loudly and declared, "Blondes are smarter!" Several responses quickly followed, including, "But there are MORE of you," and "... at extorting!" Never mind, our waitress did the drawing and we'd tipped her better, obviously! (We were allowed to ask the waitress, and she gave us at least one answer that helped us smoke the competition, even though we already knew the answer. It was worth having her over anyway.)
The meals were cooked well. The one among our group who is actually from the deep south enjoyed the blackened catfish with rice, and the samples of everything we'd shared with each other. That included onion rings -- crispy, frangible, piled high in a bowl -- as well as brisket, ribs, mac and cheese, and collard greens. Another of us declared the greens the best had in a while. The corn and avocado soup sounded and looked weird and potatoey, but it was actually delicious -- feed us this alone, and we'd be happy! The Coca Cola cake suffers from the fact that the image is greater than the reality. Even so, they had a good fudgy, sticky cake that we split between all of us. Can't eat that thing on its own on your own!
We also went another time with another crowd, and we enjoyed things like deep fried crabcakes, jambalaya (with the requisite mound of rice, more like a gumbo), mixed platters of barbecue offerings, fried squid with cajun seasonings, pecan pie. It was all very good. Not anywhere near punch-yo'-mamma-in-the-mouth good, but good.
The others who had warned us about this place were dead wrong, and seemed to have had the misfortune of coming here, perhaps during a bad spell? Whatever was wrong, they seemed to have fixed it. It's not in the same class as Blue Smoke in terms of food or atmosphere or service, but it's decent and it costs about 40% less. Duke's is better in the amenities department than Pearson's Texas Barbecue, with more selections, though Pearson's has better meat which they don't douse in sauce prior to serving. Duke's can get happily rowdy and crowded, so you might want to arrive earlier, maybe 7pm, rather than in the later hours. It's popular with the after-work younger crowd (note the blondes at the next table), the drinks are generous, the food is solid, and you can watch the guys try to pick up the beautiful waitresses.
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