There must be dozens of restaurants like Duffy's around Baltimore -- nondescript places that serve fine food at truly reasonable prices, mostly to a regular clientele that comes from close-around.
To most of us, however, these places are invisible. They do little to draw attention to themselves, other than doing what they have always done well.
In the case of Duffy's, its exterior gave absolutely no hint of the attractive dining room, pleasant service and good food my husband and I would find on a recent Friday night.
Oh, this isn't haute cuisine. But Duffy's, which has been in business for 75 years, can hold its own against many restaurants drawing more attention and charging higher prices.
Folks with money to burn might not find Duffy's as appealing as some of the rest of us. But Baltimoreans interested in good food at reasonable prices are missing a bet if they don't stop at this remarkably nondescript building on Frederick Avenue just past the "Irvington" neighborhood sign.
Duffy's large menu gives diners the whole picture in one look: wines, cocktails and beers are listed on the front; desserts and sandwiches on the back. In the middle, a wide selection of entrees, salads and ala carte vegetables.
Seafood is clearly the star with more than 20 "delicacies from the sea" offered. And for a place that says nothing about being a steak house, there are at least a half-dozen cuts of beef on the menu, as well as chicken, turkey, ham and three Italian dishes.
Each main course comes two ways -- as an "entree," which includes a salad and two vegetables or as a "full course," complete with soup or juice, salad, vegetables, dessert and coffee. The full courses run about $2.25 more than the entrees.
No one need leave Duffy's hungry.
My husband and I decided that "full course" was the way to go. We began with cups of Duffy's Famous Crab Soup and New England Clam Chowder (45 cents extra for the chowder). Both were good, but not outstanding. I found the chowder a little short on clams; the crab soup, a little short on crab.
Instead of the usual tossed salad, we asked to substitute a Greek salad. Our friendly waitress said that the Greek salad on the menu, at $8.95, really served four and suggested instead a half-order for an additional charge of $4.50.
The salad, rich in feta, was good, but neither one of us loved the dressing. I thought it too sweet; my husband, too vinegary. With it, the waitress served crispy sauteed bread-ends that were delicious.
For my entree, I chose an item I have never seen on a restaurant menu, Spinach Flounder ($13.50 for the full course). The spinach-feta mixture was sandwiched between two thin filets and beautifully browned. The top filet was perhaps a little too done, but this was not offensive given the creaminess of the stuffing.
For vegetables, I went prosaic -- a baked potato and green beans. The potato was tasty; the sweetened green beans wouldn't have been missed.
My husband decided to stick with tradition. He ordered Jumbo Deluxe Backfin Crab Cakes ($14.50 for the full course) with wild rice and kale. The crab cakes were a lovely broiled mixture of backfin and lesser-grade meat bound by a lightly seasoned imperial-like sauce that let the crab stand out. Not Baltimore's best, but awfully good.
The wild rice-white rice mix was as boring as this dish usually is. The kale was better, though a little ham flavor would have helped its excessively mild taste.
Both the entrees would have tasted better if they had been served piping hot, not lukewarm.
Both our desserts -- rice pudding and bread pudding -- were delicious and homemade. Most mothers would be proud to serve them.
We had all this, two drinks and a half-carafe of Lake Country White for $45.50.
The service was top-notch. Our waitress was the kind of server who makes each table feel it is her only responsibility.
Friendly service, fair prices, unpretentiously good food -- there ought to be more restaurants like Duffy's.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Limited access.
Smoking: No separate areas