Duza’s Kitchen quietly opened about a year ago in a gorgeous little spot, previously home to a BBQ joint and another breakfast/lunch endeavor. I’d like to think that the third time’s a charm and this might be the last iteration for this location. The food is great, and I’ll get to that, but in order for this little charmer to be a regular in my rotation, something might have to change, or perhaps I’ll have to adjust my expectations as a diner. In reality, I’m hoping for the former.
I’m not opposed to a fast casual approach, when it’s appropriate. A model that is like a glammed-up fast food experience: you order at the counter and someone delivers the food to your table. It’s annoyed me a little at Famé, to be fair. There is something slightly jarring about paying around 20 bucks for breakfast and still having to get your own coffee. Duza’s Kitchen’s version is more confusing than your standard fast casual joint, and less straightforward.
Normally I wouldn’t spend so much time critiquing the lay of the land, but when every guest I’ve brought, over multiple visits, indicates that Duza’s ordering approach is a reason they aren’t likely to return, it’s worth mentioning. I have a routine when I bring friends to try a place that I’m going to write about. Every meal ends with, “Would you come back?” All five people I brought to Duza’s over several visits said the same thing: “The food is great, but the layout…” Let me explain.
To begin with, the line for Duza’s begins outside. That is because you aren’t allowed inside for a table until you are called to order. First your name goes on a list, and then you wait. Outdoors. I’m assuming this is so the chef doesn’t get overwhelmed. You can see him and his assistant busting an impressive move in their tiny space—so I get that. I’m even on-board with their sign that says fresh good food isn’t fast. It’s less fun though, when it’s hot outside, you can’t order a coffee at 9:00 am, and you’re eagerly eyeballing the empty tables inside where you can’t sit. And if it’s busy, you can’t even sit outside. So you stand.
Once your name is called, you order, prepay and tip, and then find a table inside, out front or out back on the charming patio. If you order coffee ($2.50), you’ll get a delicious mug of steaming elixir of life. But if you need refills, and you will if it is brunch, you’ll have to go back to the counter and wait for someone to refill your cup. On only one visit did I see someone pouring coffee for patrons. You’ll hear other patrons loudly ask things like, “Am I doing this right?” and “Is this the line?”—and if you unwittingly select a seat where an inevitable line of patrons happens to form, you’ll find yourself bumped into oblivion. For me, if you have tell your customers what to do all day, every day, something isn’t right. But I digress.
What is right is the delightful, light-as-air Omelette ($9.99), a build-your-own adventure that includes four choices from a very well curated selection of meats, veggies and cheeses. My prosciutto selection did not disappoint, and came loaded up with enough to make me wonder how they can make any money on this. A gorgeous garlic chive comes laid across, with a tiny blossom at the top. The food here is as visually appealing as it is tasty. Add a side order of two perfectly cooked pieces of bacon ($2), and this is about as close to breakfast perfection as you can get.
The English Breakfast ($11.99) is an enormous presentation of the full deal, including kicky pinto beans and tasty sautéed mushrooms. The jalapeno cheddar sausages were perfectly cooked with a gorgeous sear, as was the bacon. The toasted ciabatta was the ideal foil to soak up all of the juicy goodness.
The House Hash ($11.99) is a large bowl of sautéed prime beef, ham, smoked brisket, peppers and potatoes. The flavor of the peppers manages to carry through each and every bite. This was well cooked and delicious. I’d love to see a sautéed egg on top for some extra creaminess. It doesn’t need it, but a dish this flavorful makes me dream of different ways to eat it. Right now I’m fantasizing about getting some cheddar in there, stat.
The French Toast ($10.99) appears to change regularly, at least that is what the menu suggests. We had heard about theirs being made with Sweet Tea bread. I wish we had found out, but based on the dish itself, it is the consistency of banana bread. This French toast is like an enormous, warm, breakfast dessert. At least three layers of sweet, dense bread are sautéed in butter and topped with a fruit compote and mascarpone cheese. I might get the syrupy fruit on the side, because by the end, the toast was a titch soggy. Sweet, tasty and fantastic, but a bit mushy. However, if you shared this giant portion (and two people very easily could), it would be decimated before the aforementioned sogginess kicked in.
Lunch fans will adore the open-faced Prime Rib on Ciabatta ($11.99), with the same unctuous and melt-in-your-mouth beef as the hash. I’d pick the small romaine wedge salad over the kettle chips that are served alongside.
The Beet Salad ($5.99) is a creamy, almost gooey dish that is so tasty you’ll gobble it down before your friends get a bite. I wish they’d serve this in those one-pound deli containers. I’d make a reason to swing by every day to ensure I always had some.
You’ll also find an interesting array of tasty baked goods in the deli case. I loved the Lemon Bar ($3.50), a kicky citrus blast that isn’t too sweet. The Double Chocolate Brownie ($3.50) is better warm, so try not to devour it in the car before you get home, and nuke it for 35 seconds (the perfect amount of time in my trials).
But mostly I wish they’d take the ever-present staff of four and turn at least one into a server. Austin, the charming guy who helped me one time, is clearly customer focused and attentive. The same is true of the other staffers. It just seems to me that the whole operation would be much more fluid and better received.
Duza’s Kitchen has great food in a great space. It looks gorgeous, and on every visit we saw the chef whipping out some amazing creations. It was like theater. So that is why the layout is so frustrating. They already have the staff there, and the food is great quality and tastes great. Usually when a restaurant is challenging, it’s the food that needs help. That is absolutely not the case here.
I’d love to see a server to help guide patrons, instead of watching the woman at the register explain to every single person who came in how their routine works (put your name on a list, go outside with a menu, and wait till your name is called so you can order immediately and then sit down). You’d think after a year, they would either have enough regulars who don’t need a rundown, or they’d switch it up. I’ll still go to Duza’s and enjoy the food. I just won’t enjoy waiting outside first.
2243 N. 12th St., Phoenix
Tuesday to Sunday 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.