It took me awhile to finally visit Duke's Grocery, as a Brit I was skeptical of it's authenticity. I thought to myself, what do two guys from America know about British food, let alone enough to open up their own London cafe? A lot as it seems. I paid my first visit on a Sunday morning, all I really knew of Duke's was that it has a rotating sandwich menu which is updated daily on its Facebook page. A few hours before my visit I took a gander at their Facebook page to see what was in store for me, that days menu hadn't been posted when I checked so all I was expecting from past menus were sandwiches with interesting names, certainly not something you'd find in your typical English cafe.
Admittedly I'm pretty critical when it comes to traditional English fare, it's something I'm protective of and miss dearly, I jump at the chance to try it when offered - and I don't mean a fish and chips at a chain restaurant, that I couldn't care less about, I'm talking about the type of dishes that have been given some thought and care, yes, even English food can be gourmet.
It wasn't a sandwich that caught my attention, although the Brick Lane Salt Beef was a tempting choice, but the Proper English; a plate of sausages, eggs, bacon and baked beans, how could I refuse? It can't be explained, it's inherent to the British, an English breakfast can't be passed up when given the choice. Back in England we'd call this a "fry-up" with a healthier version being a "grill-up", which is how I usually cook it at home, but only if I have the right kind of bacon, and that was my question to the server. Where did the rashers come from? His response was more than satisfying: "Ireland I think." Good enough for me! I've talked about the differences of English and American bacon before, and it makes all the difference. The English breakfast at Duke's, dare I say it, is by far the best I've had outside of England, the ingredients were fresh, the bacon salty and sausages thick, I even gave the blood sausage a try, and liked it. My vegetarian leaning friend went with the veggie breakfast, I only mention this for you to try the potato-chive boxty, a crispy pancake hash that can also be ordered as a side, which I highly recommend.
As a final comment, should you order this English breakfast make sure to pour on some brown sauce, it's almost what makes the dish, almost.
Duke's Grocery, 1513 17th Street NW, Washington, DC (closest metro: Dupont Circle)