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