Thursday, January 21, 1999
Right outside the 'pearly gates' on High is how this landmark tavern and family eatery likes to refer to itself. This cozy, square stucco building closely resembles the neighboring residences that it is surrounded by, right at the top of the hill where High Street passes through the big stone gate announcing the entrance to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio.
Some local patrons might remember this spot as a neighborhood sweet shop some decades ago. Others might recall it some years back as a pizza house. Hanging out a variety of shingles since the 1930s, it's been Duffy's for the past 15 years and owned by Vanessa and Tom Jager for almost the last five. The place has stayed comfortably the same for most of this time, the way that its steady band of regulars likes to return to find it.
As the name might suggest, there's an Irish pub feel to this American-style family restaurant, the kind of place that can get pretty lively during Monday night football season. "Actually, it pretty much stays that way," says Vanessa. "We've kept the Monday night bottomless plates of spaghetti year-round." All-you-can-eat Monday night spaghetti, with or without meatballs, is another one of the ways Duffy's maintains a steady stream of DLI students coming through the doors. Another way is the commitment to keeping the prices friendly. "A lot of the students can't afford to go out to eat a lot," she explains, and for this reason, almost everything is priced under $10. Success with Monday night spaghetti was the inspiration for Wednesday night all-you-can-eat ribs, hickory-smoked and barbecued in-house, and served along with homemade mashed potatoes.
A frequent winner of CW readers' favorite picks, burgers are the other big draw. With 15 to choose from (plus a recently added veggie burger), burger boredom is an unknown here. The Presidio is a long-standing favorite made with jack cheese and grilled green chilies, and a close rival of the Rolando burger with cheddar and fresh diced jalape¤os. Named for Rolando Herrera, Duffy's chef of the last decade, it's pretty easy to figure out the chef's recommendation.
The menu is loaded with other choices that run the gamut from sandwiches (turkey and beef are roasted in house, chicken or beef Philly's, a Downunder Reuben on grilled sourdough) to soups (onion soup, made from long-simmering beef stock, and spicy chipotle chunky beef chili) and salads--much touted by Caesar aficionados, Duffy's is garlicky and pungent, with homemade croutons, and doesn't shy away from the anchovies.
With an adamant 'from scratch' attitude, Icelandic cod is beer-battered in a recipe that Vanessa brought from her native Australia, then fried and served with the appropriate chips, and the calamari is hand-dipped in cornmeal, served either as a steak or strips. Stuck in the office? The Jagers are now bringing lunch (as well as dinner) to your door.
The appetizer menu is priced to mix and match, most at around $3, like the house-filled pork won-tons with teriyaki sauce, spicy Buffalo wings, and heaters, the fresh whole jalape¤os that get stuffed with cheddar cheese. A help-yourself nacho bar happens from 4-6pm on weekdays, along with $2 drink specials. Bloody Mary fans will want to sample Duffy's much acclaimed concoction, set apart, it is said, by the surprise of fresh horseradish with a hit of haba¤ero hot sauce. Like Duffy's Tavern and Restaurant, it's likely to make a warm and lasting impression.
Duffy's Tavern and Family Restaurant
282 High St., Monterey, 372-2565.
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday, 11am-2pm, Dinner 4-9pm, Fridays until 10pm, Open Saturday noon-9pm, Closed Sunday.
Price range: $3.00-12.95