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Duke's Grocery and Duke's Counter, Sandwich Counters and Pubs, Now in Multiple DC Locations


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Tried out the newish Duke's Grocery today for lunch over in Dupont on 17th street.  First a few odd things: 1) it is not much of a grocery - they have a few baskets of produce for sale, but it is really a restaurant, 2) its menu consists solely of sandwiches, a few sides and a bar menu - but for now they do not offer carry out sandwiches (concerns about too long of a wait when they have a tiny open kitchen and basically one (maybe 2 sometimes cooks), 3) it looks like it'd be a place for counter service, but they have bartenders and waiter?/food runners so it is unclear whether tipping is expected. I sat at the bar where you order on the ground floor when you enter - but they have an upstairs with tables and some other ledges and stools around on the first floor too.  Overall, I think they are still trying to figure out what their concept really is. Nevertheless, the bar is nice and 2 young bartenders were very friendly and nice explaining the menu and chatting.

Now onto the food. So the price/value is great here.  All of the amply portioned sandwiches are just under $10 with tax included and despite my gluttony of finishing my whole Brick Lane Salt Beef monster, it easily could be shared by 2 people. The other couple of sandwiches I saw come out were equally well-made, fresh in the kitchen using mostly homemade ingredients in small batches and likewise large. The sandwiches come on a variety of breads from Lyon Bakery including rye, ciabatta, etc. I've never been to the UK nor had Salt Beef but it was described as less salty corned beef. It had thick cut soft white bread that was good and then piled high large chunks of tender beef (not melt in your mouth, but soft).  The sandwich is slathered with sinus-cleansing Colman Mustard (think horseradish or chinese spicy mustard without the heat) and house made dill pickles with bit of onion laced within. I said next time I'd get the sandwich with less mustard and more of the good pickles.  The sandwich was good and definitely well made with quality ingredients - but I think the mustard overwhelmed the somewhat lightly seasoned meat.  Probably go back and get something else or maybe the salt beef on rye with sauerkraut and dilled mustard (Ruby on Rye).  Besides these 2 options there are several pork ones, a chicken salad, and a vegetarian aubergine/eggplant sandwich - but check/call before you go if you want something particular as most of the menu changes according to the staff.

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I do wish they would go back to carry out. I think I had one of their last ever carry-out sandwiches...went a few Fridays ago and we waited in line for about 10 minutes, when we got to the counter they told us it would be a 45+ minute wait for carry-out. I told them that they should tell the other people in line (it was still pretty long after us) because we had waited a while to get to the counter with no word on the wait. One of my coworkers bailed for Subway up 17th but I figured I had waited this long why not order? I just went back to my office and waited. By the time I came back to pick it up they had a chalkboard out front saying it was dine-in only for the rest of the day. I don't think they've since reversed that.

Had the Ruby on Rye which is close to their version of a reuben, only swapping the Russian dressing for the dilled mustard, which I appreciated because it gave the sandwich a nice fresh taste. As mentioned, these things are massive and a very good value given all the thought and care that goes into them.

I went in to order one to-go the other day and they said they no longer do it because they don't want to sacrifice the quality given their small kitchen. Oh well, I just don't always have time to sit down for lunch.

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Went there for the first time today for lunch and it was phenomenal.  I had their porchetta sandwich -- roasted pork with fennel and garlic, crispy pork rinds, sauteed rapini with chili, garlic, and lemon, and salsa verde -- which was incredibly delicious and great value at $9 for a huge portion.  The pork was cooked nicely, the bread was spot on, and the crunch of the pork rinds, bitterness of the rapini, and brightness of the salsa verde all played together extremely well.

I can't wait to go back to try more things on their menu.

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I'm honestly not sure because I think there are a couple of contenders I haven't yet tried. That qualifier out, this and Duke's are my two best sandwich spots in the area (yep, above Earls). Maybe that's crazy talk?

What/where is Duke's?

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Duke's Counter

What a difference a gut job does.  The layout for Duke's Counter is almost identical to the late Zoo Bar, but now stripped clean, painted white with lots of hard surfaces and exposed duct work (you can probably imagine the look).

The menu looks to be rather similar to Duke's Grocery, but primarily focused on the sandwiches.  The top half of the menu is a mix of salads, mac and cheese, soup and other "plates."  The bottom half is a collection of 10 sandwiches.  The sandwiches are expensive ($11-$14), but huge.  Most normal humans could get two meals out of a sandwich and an order of fries...or split a sandwich with someone.  I was hoping that Duke's Counter would serve up more entree options, but that does not seem to be the case. 

And how are the sandwiches?  I went with the Banh Mi, because everyone is riffing on the banh mi these days.  First of all it is a tasty sandwich, stuffed with a pork cutlet and chicken liver pate with the daikon/carrot, jalapeno, and cilantro on a soft baguette.  Unfortunately, to call it a banh mi is an insult to the banh mi:  Other than having some banh mi elements it's a complete failure as a banh mi with massive amounts of meat, light on the herbs and daikon/carrot, and most importantly not much balance of flavors (which really is the beauty of a proper banh mi).  It is a sandwich worth ordering, but the best thing to do is think of it as pork cutlet sandwich with Asian flavors.  

I'm intrigued to go back, the other sandwiches ordered at my table also looked great, especially the tuna melt, which is massive.  Will it become a regular on the rotation?  The jury is still out.            

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Duke's Counter

After three visits, I would say I like Duke's Counter but I don't love it (at least not yet). 

The menu isn't really set up that well for snacking, like stopping in mid-afternoon to have a beer or two and watching some Olympics, we ended up just ordering a plate of fries. 

The beer list really needs an upgrade.  Honestly, at this point there is no excuse for a DC neighborhood joint not to feature a good selection of beer from the region.  The only local beer they have on tap right now is Port City Optimal Wit and Evolution Exile Red.  Having Founder's All Day IPA and Bell's Amber Ale is a waste of taps IMO.  Plus Bass?  I mean sure their shtick is East London sandwich shop inspired but having one token English beer on tap and making it Bass is also a waste of tap space.  

Plus inside is loud.  Very loud.  Their front patio is done well and a nice place to spend an evening.  

We have enjoyed the Avocado Toast and the Beet Cured Salmon, both served as open faced sandwiches.  The fries are solidly good, served with a  slightly spicy creamy dipping sauce. I would steer away from the tapenade, too much tapenade not enough accompaniments and it got rather repetitive.

I get the feeling that Duke's is a place where we will end up finding a handful dishes which will become our go to order.  Which isn't always a bad thing when it comes to neighborhood restaurants.            

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51 minutes ago, Tweaked said:

Plus Bass?  I mean sure their shtick is East London sandwich shop inspired but having one token English beer on tap and making it Bass is also a waste of tap space.          

Wow! I haven't had a Bass ale since Bill Clinton was in office.

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I stopped in at Duke's Counter (across from the zoo) early this evening.  My reaction is mostly in line with the above: perfectly good, and friendly, and lovely for the neighborhood, but wouldn't it be nice if it were more awesome?  I ordered the cubano sandwich minus ham (so sue me), and I liked it because it wasn't dry (had lots of avocado and mayo).  But neither it nor anything else on the menu seemed to have the balance that one would want from the Platonic ideal of a sandwich (in terms of textures and contrasting flavors).  Maybe British people just don't like crunch or acid on their sandwiches????  Will happily go back, and they were doing good business.  But more interesting would be better.

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I also dined at Duke's Counter last week, hopeful that the new place would have better service and drinks than the original Duke's.

I agree that it was perfectly good. Our server forgot to put in our meals, so we were there much longer than anticipated, but completely understand that this happens and the bartender (manager, maybe?) was excellent in responding to the situation.

My burger was very overcooked, but my brother and dad very much enjoyed their sandwiches. My brother said he didn't like the bahn mi as much as at the other location. The fries are excellent! 

The cocktail and beer menu is still uninspiring. I was hopeful that a bigger bar would bring changes, but they seem to have stayed in their comfort zone. 

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I've developed a new appreciation for Duke's Counter.  Alas it's never going to be a hang out spot, like the late great Zoo Bar, but for very low-key, easy meals it does the trick.

Yesterday the gf's aunt was in town with her two young daughters, and after an afternoon at the zoo, Duke's hit the spot.  Great looking grilled cheese and nutella, banana, marshmallow sandwiches on the kids menu.  The roasted pork butt sandwich was pretty solid, shredded meat topped with a fennel slaw on a ciabatta roll.  Plenty big enough for lunch today.  Next time I'm going with the grilled cheese!  

If only they had a better beer line-up... 

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On 7/25/2016 at 7:26 PM, cheezepowder said:

I'm surprised the thread for Duke's is so short. 

Duke's opened Duke's Counter at the former Zoo Bar location in Woodley Park on July 15, 2016 (via Washington City Paper).

Would it be correct to put Duke's Grocery in the Shopping and Cooking Forum, and Duke's Counter in the Restaurants and Dining Forum? (If so, I'll split this up, which will be a very quick operation.)

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Would it be correct to put Duke's Grocery in the Shopping and Cooking Forum, and Duke's Counter in the Restaurants and Dining Forum? (If so, I'll split this up, which will be a very quick operation.)

No, Duke's Grocery doesn't do much in the way of groceries.  The focus is on their sandwiches. 

The off menu adult grilled cheese at Duke's Counter (Zoo location) is pretty damn good.  Made with sauteed onions.

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5 minutes ago, Tweaked said:

No, Duke's Grocery doesn't do much in the way of groceries.  The focus is on their sandwiches. 

The off menu adult grilled cheese at Duke's Counter (Zoo location) is pretty damn good.  Made with sauteed onions.

What kind of cheese?

Are the Grocery and the Counter next to each other, and if so, why do they bother to have separate names?

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I think there are multiple cheeses. It's a big gooey mess with onions.

Dukes Grocery is the Dupont location.

Dukes Counter is the zoo location.

I think the Penn Ave will be Dukes Grocery again.

As far as I can tell no real difference between all the locations other than size of kitchen.  The original Dukes Grocery didn't have room for a fryer, so no French fries.  I think they started off with different ideas but quickly realized it's all about the sandwiches.  So Dukes is basically one concept.  No reason to separate them. 

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The third Duke's opens today, taking over the space formerly known as Kinkeade's at 2000 Penn Ave.

This one is branded as Duke's Grocery, like the original Dupont location.  Sounds like with a bigger kitchen, they will have a larger menu, but the focus is still on the sandwiches and burger.

Happy hour from noon to 7pm Mon-Fri.

 

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I realized no one has posted much in this thread for a while except for the most recent post on the 3rd location opening. I've been to the Zoo location, Duke's Counter, several times in the past year and even ordered lunch delivery a few times. The best dish is still the Proper Burger with its messy, tasty mix of sweet and savory toppings. Second favorite is the Fried Eggplant (aubergine) sandwich which is spicy with jalapenos and very satisfying for a vegetarian sandwich. I will note that all of the sandwiches are large - easily enough for two people or two meals. Both of these sandwiches come on good bread. I haven't enjoyed as much the sandwiches on the naan or the pastrami on weck on marble rye - the pastrami meat was only ok. Its been a while but the brisket sandwiches were better tasting meat. The fries continue to be great. The quinoa salad is good for a hearty non-sandwich. I recently had the new-ish sockeye salmon rice bowl which was good for a lighter meal. Kids like the chicken fingers (big surprise). The cocktails are usually rather good and they have lots of extended happy hour discounts from noon to 7 vs, only after work hours. The avocado toast is only so so and too spicy. My main wish is that they included the full sandwich menu during their very long brunch hours on the weekend.  My wife and I occasionally like eggs/breakfast for brunch, but we mainly go to Duke's for sandwiches and their brunch runs during all conceivable lunch hours on the weekend (10-3 Saturday AND Sunday) which is why it we don't go there more frequently. 

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12 hours ago, KeithA said:

My main wish is that they included the full sandwich menu during their very long brunch hours on the weekend.  My wife and I occasionally like eggs/breakfast for brunch, but we mainly go to Duke's for sandwiches and their brunch runs during all conceivable lunch hours on the weekend (10-3 Saturday AND Sunday) which is why it we don't go there more frequently. 

We tend to avoid restaurants that do not serve their full lunch menu in addition to brunch items on the weekends.

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