By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Whether you’re hankering for beef stew at daybreak, or a three-egg Denver omelet for supper, Du-Par’s Restaurant & Bakery in the Gaslamp Quarter obliges.
The iconic 24/7 restaurant, which launched in 1938 as a food stall at the Los Angeles Farmers Market, introduced its round-the-clock comfort fare and house-made pies to San Diego several years ago, taking initial residence in an unremarkable structure on Sports Arena Boulevard.
But “Biff” Naylor, the restaurateur who purchased the company in 2004 and oversees six other locations throughout Southern California and Las Vegas, saw a better fit Downtown. So he shortly afterward moved the operation into the space that formerly housed Red Pearl Kitchen.
The new spot is spacious and feels exceedingly more inviting with its burgundy diamond-tufted Naugahyde booths, antique hurricane lamps, and plush carpeting milled in London. A full bar occupies the front of the house and a display case stocked with fresh pies and pastries hardly goes unnoticed when first walking in.
“We went for a timeless Americana design instead of a retro look,” said Naylor’s son, Anthony, who runs the place as general manager. He added that since the re-opening in August, lines snake out the door on Friday and Saturday nights with club goers who have become keen to savoring an array of dishes uncommonly found in the wee hours.
Welsh rarebit or gourmet meatloaf at 2 a.m.? Why not? Banana splits flaunting house-made ice cream? No problem.
The pancakes are perhaps the hottest sellers during any time of the day. Touted (rightfully so) by Esquire Magazine as being “the best in the country,” they derive their girth and fluffiness from whisked egg whites that get folded into the batter at the end.
What sends them over the moon, however, is the accompanying hot, clarified butter that seeps sinfully into every pore. They’re sold in stacks of three or five, though either quantity will require the help of your tablemates to finish.
In this most recent visit, my companion insisted on the chicken pot pie, another recipe at Du-Par’s that has supposedly remained untouched for 78 years.
Beneath its thin, buttery crust was a traditional pond of chicken gravy strewn sparingly with peas, carrots, celery, potatoes, and modest-size pieces of breast meat. What set it apart from standard Betty Crocker versions, however, was the tinge of citrus arising from the chicken, which we confirmed is marinated in lemon and garlic. We loved every bite.
Thick slices of fresh, roasted turkey teamed up with flat-grilled bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato in a triple-decker club sandwich using house-made white bread. Right down to the pineapple-kissed coleslaw served alongside, the dish sent me back to the days of eating at department-store lunch counters back East when I was a kid.
Impressed by the tenderness of Du-Par’s corned beef in a Reuben sandwich at the previous location, we placed our bets on the corned beef hash and won. It’s ground in-house with a little olive oil to bind it, and shaped into a sizable, meaty disk containing little or no potatoes compared to most. The crispy hash browns on the plate provided the necessary starch, while the two eggs on top were cooked over-medium, exactly as requested.
Du-Par’s still offers “beat-the-clock” dinner specials. Get there between 4 and 6 p.m. any day of the week and you pay according to the time you arrive when ordering from a select list of entrees. If you saunter just seconds after 4 p.m., for example, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs or grilled Atlantic salmon with creamed spinach and roasted potatoes will cost an easy $4.01. The main menu doesn’t tell you this, but a promotional flip card on your table spells it all out.
Pies are sold whole or by the slice. And the choices abound with flavors such as green apple, gooseberry, raspberry, chocolate meringue, southern pecan, lemon cream, and other varieties that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in grocery store bakeries.
Du-Par’s is open seven days a week daily, including Christmas Day and all other holidays.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.