As a critic and as a writer in general, I’ve always thought that proclaiming anything “America’s best” or “Nevada’s best” or “Las Vegas’ best” is just wrong.
First, calling it the “best” means that I’ve tried all of the others and excluded them, and although that might be possible for, say, Bulgarian restaurants in Las Vegas, it’s not true of most things on most scales.
Plus, I have to sort of feel sorry for a restaurant that gets branded as the best of whatever, because everybody’s gonna want to test the claim, and if it falls short, it’ll be the restaurant and not the publication that gets the resulting flak.
Such is the case with Du-par’s at the Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas. Du-par’s is a Los Angeles institution, open at the Farmer’s Market since 1938, and legendary in large part for its breakfast foods and desserts. So it comes as no surprise that a magazine with the prominence of Esquire would name its pancakes the best in the country.
Except, you know, that they’re not.
They’re fluffy, but I’ve had fluffier, and the exterior actually is on the tough side. They’re huge, absolutely covering a largish dinner plate, a short stack of two ($6.50; a “Vegas” stack of three is $8.95) way more than I could handle, but I really don’t consider size a measure of a pancake’s quality. Du-par’s apparently uses oil on the griddle, because before I added syrup that was the predominant flavor, not the “Grade AA melted butter” promised on the menu. The boysenberry syrup (which our server neglected to offer; I had to ask) was really just sweetened and pureed berries, although the maple syrup carried good, deep flavor. The one exemplary is that the pancakes were really pretty, the batter artfully swirled on the grill in the making of them.
With them we had a pork sausage patty ($5.55), and again, the size was impressive, the patty the size of a hamburger (which is another of the choices for the same price, along with bacon or turkey links) and quite thick. It also had been seasoned with flecks of crushed red pepper. The problem was that that was the only seasoning, and in between microbursts of heat there was really no flavor other than that of overcooked pork. Which was dry, I should add.
The Ultimate Trio ($13.50) is a nice menu choice and one that presumably embraces Du-par’s strengths: soup or salad, a half-sandwich with a side and a piece of pie. The salad was a good start, a fresh, crisp mix of chilled greens with croutons, some vegetables and a really nice balsamic vinaigrette, which was the dressing we chose. Fries were fries — crisp, hot, not greasy but otherwise unremarkable — (the other choices were potato salad, fruit and coleslaw), but things kind of went downhill from there.
Maybe it’s that we’ve become used to overstuffed corned-beef sandwiches (such as those that had been served in the unassuming little deli that Du-par’s replaced), but this one seemed thin. And although we didn’t expect the corned beef to be warm, it was somehow colder than it should have been, shockingly cold compared to the bread.
So on to the pie, subject of a superlative by a local publication that proclaimed it Las Vegas’ best. Except — and by now you see this coming — it’s not. The raspberry pie we chose as part of our Ultimate Trio was nice and tart, the filling plentiful. A piece of egg custard pie ($3, although the menu said it would be more) was eggy, although the small amount of nutmeg it contained had sunk to the crust. And since the crust, even for a commercial preparation, was anything but flaky, we didn’t eat much of it.
Service was OK; the place was awfully busy when we were there, but the staff seemed to be trying to keep up. The decor is dark-woody in the spirit of the Golden Gate’s Bay City Diner, which is still proclaimed on the windows, and the servers’ old-timey uniforms are charming, but the upholstery of our booth was ripped in two places, and the wooden edge of the laminate-topped table was excessively worn.
The website says there’s new blood at the top and a schedule of planned renovations, so we can only wait and see. But for now, the venerable Du-par’s doesn’t deliver the best of anything.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.