Saturday, May 1, 2010 | 12:05 a.m.
- What: Du-par's Restaurant & Bakery
- Where: Inside the Golden Gate, 1 Fremont St.; 385-1906
- When: Open 24 hours
- Suggested dishes: Blue Plate short-stack combo, $6.75; Yellow split-pea soup, $3.75; Patty melt, $8.95
Despite its reputation as a classic Southern California diner, a somewhat iconic and very nostalgic American eatery, I was skeptical about the arrival of Du-par's in Downtown Las Vegas. I've been to the Du-par's at the Farmer's Market in LA, and while I'd never eaten them, I'd heard and read about the magical pancakes and fresh-from-scratch pies. But this is Las Vegas, this is the Golden Gate, and I've been sitting at the counter at the Bay City Diner eating great greasy burgers for years. This is the rare Vegas casino-hotel that's proud of its history and willing to maintain that old-school vibe, and there aren't many places like this left. So I was afraid when it became Du-par's a few short weeks ago.
It took just one simple breakfast to calm those fears. Those legendary pancakes, called the country's best in magazines like Esquire and Saveur, are nearly plate-sized and delicious, rich and spongy with a near-crisp buttery edge. I don't know what kind of syrup is used, but it's good. Order a short stack from the menu of Blue Plate specials and take a couple of sausage links on the side—surprisingly tasty, considering they're made with turkey instead of pork.
Service at the counter is friendly and kind, but that's nothing new. It's nice to see some things haven't changed, even though there are a host of new employees. When I ordered a temporarily unavailable ground steak with fried eggs, my server came back quickly to let me know it wasn't going to happen, then knocked a couple bucks off a substitute Denver omelet, which was whipped up in a hurry and full of fresh green and red bell peppers and gooey jack cheese. The restaurant's décor hasn't changed, either, still all mahogany and red leather with black-and-white photos on the wall. The only new pieces of furniture are the large circular cases on the counter holding irresistible chocolate-covered doughnuts, baked fresh on site daily. All the goodies here are impressive, from these doughnuts and pastries to a wild selection of fruit and cream pies. On my second visit I demolished the greatest bear claw of my life, sticky-sweet with almonds and possibly bigger than an actual bear's actual claw. It made the okay coffee taste really good.
Beyond breakfast, the menu is stacked with good ol' Americana—tuna melts and chicken-fried steaks. Split- pea soup is yellow, thicker than anything that should be called soup, and totally satisfying. The patty melt is an exquisite burger, fresh ground chuck on grilled rye with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese. The open-faced meatloaf sandwich will threaten the rest of your day if consumed at lunchtime, a mighty pile of densely constructed yet light-tasting loaf covered in savory mushroom gravy, all on top of sliced grilled white bread with mashed potatoes at the ready. (Mom, stop reading this now.) It is significantly better than mom's. Further jeopardizing your relationship with your mom's cooking: a pretty decent chicken pot pie with a wonderfully browned top crust.
So no complaining; change is good. My diner is still my diner; the food is just better now.
— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly