Johnny Pogo had just flown in from Cincinnati on the redeye. Before he hit the high-roller tables at Rivers Casino & Resort, he wanted dinner. Where else to go than Duke’s Chophouse, billed as an “upscale steakhouse,” and located to the right of the casino’s high limit gaming area?
I had wisely called for reservations at the understated restaurant with a reputation for good food. Only a few of the dozen or so tables covered with gray-blue denim-like linens were occupied at 7 p.m., but by the time we left two hours later, the restaurant was filled and several tables had already turned over once.
A lounge area with a small, rectangular bar was situated immediately outside the restaurant and served as a buffer for both noise and patrons choosing an abbreviated menu. Several high-top tables accommodated the few customers who were having a cocktail and listening to pianist du jour Cliff Brucker.
One of my personal prerequisites for a pleasant dining experience is the ability to carry on a conversation with my dinner partner. My limited experience in casinos led me to believe that the noise in this one would be loud and jangly. I was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Johnny P also noted that the noise level in Duke’s permitted conversation. We were even able to hear soft music from the piano in the lounge.
The menu was large in size, but smaller in variety. Approximately eight categories (chilled and hot appetizers, soups and salads, steaks and chops and seafood) were studded with accompaniments, enhancements and sides.
We were first served three less-than-memorable rolls with two pats of butter. A diner might expect superior bread products, since Duke’s parent
establishment is Malozzi’s Villa Italia Bakery. Our Salumi Platter appetizer ($18) featured several varieties of high-quality salami and pepperoni, green and cured olives, sharp provolone, artichoke hearts and a bunch of red grapes, all atop a mound of slightly tired micro-greens.
Sensing the Classic Wedge Salad ($14) would be large enough for two, we ordered one salad. Our perceptive server, Nadia, suggested the kitchen would be happy to serve half the wedge on each of two plates, which was perfect for us. The excellent bleu cheese sour cream dressing, intensified with chunks of bleu cheese, was judged by my dinner mate to be among the best he has ever tasted. The iceberg lettuce, needing its outer leaf removed, was accompanied by cherry tomatoes cut in half, frizzled onion rings, lardons and tarragon.
Two characteristics stood out on the menu. First, most dishes seem to be classic preparations, rarely straying from essentially original recipes. Secondly, most dishes were geared toward diners with hearty appetites and a yen for red meat. There was a solitary chicken dish (Fried Chicken and Waffles for $28.50), a Vegetable Stack for $16 and a smattering of fish dishes like Seabass Provencal ($36).
Over half the entrées featured red meat, like the longest braised short rib I have ever attempted to devour ($35), and Johnny P’s (frenched) Veal Chop Oscar ($35). We were told the chef prepares the veal chop medium-rare, insisting that any amount of searing more or less would be detrimental to the flavor and texture. Should the customer choose a different degree of doneness, the chef will suggest ordering another entrée. The dish was accompanied by lengthwise sliced young carrots and asparagus, and topped with béarnaise and a sprig of dill. My monster rib came with sides of carrots also cut lengthwise and prepared al dente, and fingerling red and white potatoes. According to their website, Duke’s features a selection of 35-plus-day, wet-aged 100 percent Linz Heritage Angus beef.
My espresso and JP’s decaf coffee ($3 each) were served steaming and were excellent. From a menu of about eight desserts, we ended with a shared oval dish of crème brulee ($11), creamy with a hint of vanilla, a light pane of sugar-glass and two slices of fresh strawberry. A classic.
Named for Schenectady icon Tony “The Duke” DeLorenzo, Duke’s Chophouse is the collaborative creation of the Rivers Family and the Mallozzi Family. DeLorenzo worked for the Galesi Group, serving as assistant to the chairman of the board. To his friends, he was known as “The Duke” who traveled all over the world.
WHERE: 1 Rush St. (inside Rivers Casino & Resort), Schenectady, NY 12308, (518) 579-8850, https://riverscasinoandresort.com/dining/dukes/
WHEN: Lunch: Daily, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (last seating). Dinner: Mon–Sat, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. (last seating), Sun, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (last seating)
HOW MUCH: $121 for two people without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible (restaurant is on the same level as the outdoor sidewalk), huge casino parking lot, all major credit cards accepted, outdoor patio with river view, full bar, private dining room for intimate events, located just off the casino floor therefore patrons must be 21 or older to enter.