A Sure Bet
Whatever Your Diet, There's Something to Enjoy at Duda's
As we set out for Fells Point, I nervously told my two sisters that I hoped Duda's Saloon serves food they could eat. One sister eschews red meat but eats poultry and fish; the other is a strict vegetarian who doesn't like to sit in the same room with a crab cake. And while I tend to be omnivorous, I pretend to eat healthy foods. So I was a little concerned that the bar food we would find at Duda's would be of the Buffalo-wings/hamburgers/deep-fried-items variety, food that once had both a mother and a face.
Upon seeing the menu posted on Duda's door, my fears were quelled. Hummus and raw veggies were an appetizer option; several salads were listed further down the page. There was a full complement of chicken sandwiches and plenty of items prepared without visiting the deep fryer. Duda's Saloon was a go.
During the summer this Fells Point eatery sets out tables and chairs on the sidewalk, but we opted to eat inside, where the air was cool and the iced-tea refills more frequent. We took a table in the small dining room and sat among families, businessfolks, and tourists. Duda's is a bar, but there's plenty of seating for the lunch crowd. After 6 p.m., however, consider yourself warned--table space is at a premium.
After we settled in with a round of iced teas and diet Coke ($1.50 each), we started with appetizers. My vegetarian sister ordered the hummus ($5.95), which was served with fresh carrot and celery sticks, and crackers instead of the anticipated pita bread. The hummus was smooth and creamy, a much more refined dip than the kind we usually make at home. And its flavor was equally refined, lacking the strong, earthy, garlicky taste that overwhelms most commercially made hummus.
My Orioles-loving sister showed her team loyalty with an order of the "How Bout Dem O's" onion rings ($3.25). Despite their time in the deep fryer, the rings emerged crispy and tasty rather than greasy and overcooked. The batter was light, with no discernible seasoning. We were pleased to find that Duda's served the traditional oversized onion rings (think Burger King, but bigger), eschewing the thinly cut spirals currently in vogue.
I opted for a small garden salad ($2.75) with blue-cheese dressing on the side. The requisite iceberg lettuce, cucumber, onion, and tomato were fresh, and the creamy dressing was thick with chunks of sharp blue cheese.
We were equally pleased with our entrée selections. My vegetarian sister stayed the course, settling on a large Greek salad ($5.95). (Each of the salads are available in small and large sizes, and you can add chicken strips or blackened tuna for an additional $2.) With the Greek salad, all of the standard ingredients--lettuce, black olives, onion, feta cheese, and a peppery, garlicky dressing--were in evidence, as well as a heaping helping of chickpeas and artichoke hearts. Those Mediterranean additions added substance to this tasty, meal-size salad.
My other sister and I went for decadence, she ordering a turkey-melt sandwich with melted cheese and mushrooms ($6.95), me going for more blue cheese, this time served on a blackened chicken-breast sandwich ($6.95). Both sandwiches came with potato chips and a pickle. The "Black 'n' Blue," as my sandwich was christened, was served on a kaiser roll with lettuce and tomato. By the time I piled on the veggies and slapped the bun on top, this oversize sandwich was nearly too big to fit in my mouth. I didn't detect the blackening spices I love, but the chicken was flavorful and moist. And the melted blue cheese had a wonderful bite. My sister's sandwich, served on a roll, offered moist, sliced turkey smothered in melted provolone cheese and grilled mushrooms. It wasn't terribly sophisticated, but it was certainly satisfying.
Full from our lunch, we decided against dessert and coffee, although we did elect to spend a few more minutes just hanging out at our table. With a long bar that lines one wall of the place, Duda's is definitely a drinking establishment, but we were pleasantly surprised by the attentive table service and the character and quality of the food. You can get a cheeseburger and greasy fries there, but you can also feast on huge crab cakes and a variety of seafood. And, best of all for us, three sisters with dramatically different eating habits can find themselves fed and happy.