There's a prominent sign on the wall in the rest room foyer at Duke's Original Road House. "Coming soon," it reads, "brand new, bigger, better restrooms just for you." Now it may seem strange to generate excitement by pre-announcing an impending john remodel, as you might an upcoming Rolling Stones tour or a Martha Stewart handcuffing ceremony. But Duke's is more than a simple restaurant. It's a watering hole, one the size of a zeppelin hangar. And if its purpose is somehow lost on the denizens floating in from the Sam's parking lot next door, the lighting design will set them straight. The entire establishment is illuminated with beer signs, or so it seems. Those refurbished rest rooms had better be the size of Jiffy Lube depots. Beer regalia is posted everywhere (huge Bud Light bottle caps are buttoned on the ceiling). There's even a stars-and-stripes hammock dangling from the ceiling. If that doesn't drive you to drink, nothing will.
But Duke's has food, too: burgers, spuds, Tex-Mex, steak, all in portions almost as big as your bladder will be after a steady program of Duke's care and nurturing. ("Sunday is NOT a day of Rest at Duke's," boasts the menu. "We get up early so we can pour you $5.00 pitchers and $2.00 drinks." Whoa, who gets to light the Carrie A. Nation effigy?)
The Texas chili was thick, sweet, spicy and hearty, the kind of padding you want in your gastric satchel before you suds up. Guac was abysmally bland, but spuds are good, especially jammed with everything (cheese, bacon, scallions, cream--good load) but the sink from the remodeled bathroom. The potato flesh was fluffy and light, and the skin was tender and chewy. Cancun combination, a huge plate swamped (it tasted better than it looked) with a chicken enchilada, crispy chicken taco and a chicken chalupa, was delicious, with hearty beans that skirted mush.
Grilled chicken was juicy and well-marinated, and the Tampico steak, blanketed in onions and green peppers, was juicy and rich, with a sweet gamy layer--unusual for a cheap roadhouse steak. The rib slab was massive, and the meat slipped easily from the bones. Plus it was basted in the barbecue sauce instead of choked in it.
But don't fill up on too much roadhouse food. You'll want to save room for libations: the $2 U-Call-it drinks and $5 pitchers on Mondays, for instance.
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