Cafe Reviews

Duza’s Kitchen in The Coronado Neighborhood Is A Welcome Addition to Central Phoenix Dining

The Coronado neighborhood in midtown Phoenix is perhaps best known for its collection of well-preserved historic properties — a patchwork of cozy desert bungalows, red-brick English Tudors and Spanish Colonials, many lovingly restored and outfitted with artful yard installations and urban gardens. And while the greater Coronado neighborhood may be a preservationist’s dream, it’s also a bright spot for anyone who loves to eat. The neighborhood boasts a fair number of Central Phoenix dining destinations, including Barrio Café, Tuck Shop, and now, Duza’s Kitchen, a new counter-service breakfast and lunch spot with a menu that straddles the line between laidback neighborhood café and upscale bistro.

Duza’s Kitchen, which opened about six months ago, is owned and operated by chef Mensur Duzic, a classically trained chef who made a name for himself while managing, of all places, a hospital cafeteria. Duzic, a native of the former Yugoslavia, is widely credited with elevating the food program at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where he traded in rubbery chicken and reconstituted potatoes for a scratch kitchen model designed for made-to-order wood-fired pizzas and gourmet salads. Now, Duzic is bringing his fine-dining pedigree and eye for reinvention to Duza’s Kitchen, where globally-inspired breakfast and lunch entrees are updated, refined, and sometimes wholly reinvented, often with startlingly good results.

Duza’s Kitchen is tucked into a section of a converted home adjacent to Tuck House, a sleek and sunny space with a warm, insular neighborhood vibe that’s reflected in the Julia Child quote emblazoned on the restaurant’s signage: “People who love to eat are the best people.” Inside, the dining room is small but inviting, with local art on the walls, fresh flowers on the tables, and an open kitchen that, at first glance, resembles something more like an elaborate coffee bar. There’s also a spacious outdoor patio with picnic tables sitting in the shade of cottonwoods.

Breakfast, which is served all day, might be as simple and wholesome as an apple-spiced hot cereal, or as straightforward as a Mexican breakfast torta bulging with chorizo and avocado. Or it might be as inventive as the house crab and shrimp Benedict, a sort of seafood revival of the classic brunch dish. Here, the chalky English muffin has been replaced with a soft, pillowy bun, served open-faced and layered with cheese and heirloom tomatoes, and then loaded with a creamy crab salad and a handful of enormous shrimp for which there is no better descriptor than “jumbo.” On top of all that, there is the crowning touch, a large egg, lightly fried and served sunny-side up, balanced atop a silky muddle of house-made chipotle cream sauce, which is used in place of the traditional hollandaise. It’s a messy, delightful, and lushly rich dish, a curious triumph of balance and flavor, and also a bit hard to eat without using more than one napkin.

There is also a classic French crepe, which might strike you as a light breakfast option. But the savory crepe at Duza’s Kitchen feels substantive enough to fuel you well into the afternoon, thanks in part to the dish’s rich, smoky mushroom sauce, which is thick as gravy and incredibly rich. The crepe itself is expertly made, buttery and thin yet pliable and slightly crisp at the edges, and it’s wrapped in a mélange of well-seasoned, meaty veggies, including portobellos, roasted artichokes, and wilted, buttery leaves of arugula.

There are omelets, of course, made to order with your choice of ham, prosciutto, or capicola, which you can have prepared alongside any number of veggies and gourmet cheeses. If there is one glaring disappointment from the breakfast menu, it is the house cheese grits and egg pudding. There is no “pudding” to speak of in this dish, just a bowl of dense, under-seasoned grits with a couple of eggs, cooked to order, on top.

A better option is the shepherd’s biscuit, a meat-lover’s breakfast entree that seems to draw notes of inspiration from both a shepherd’s pie and classic biscuit and gravy plates. The house-made biscuit is excellent — buttery and nicely dense, so that not a single crumb is lost to the breakfast meats heaped atop it, which include glistening bacon strips, tender smoked brisket, and big, savory hunks of Italian sausage. A dollop of creamy ricotta and hunks of avocado, along with two fried eggs, bind every delicious bite together.
A build-your-own-sandwich option may not sound particularly inspiring, but it makes for a surprisingly good lunchtime prospect at Duza’s Kitchen. Sandwiches are constructed using fresh, fluffy ciabatta rolls, stuffed with your choice of locally-sourced meats, which include options like pulled pork, smoked brisket, and roasted prime beef and turkey, among others. On a recent visit, the pulled pork was rich and moist, the meat juices mingling with the creamy house-made horseradish sauce in a deliriously good harmony of flavors. The smoked brisket, bearing a lovely smoke ring, was equally tender and well-seasoned, served with what the menu described as a “small romaine salad,” but in fact turned out to be a lavish presentation of romaine hearts garnished with thick, salty flakes of Parmesan cheese.

Pleasant surprises abound on the lunch menu, such as the plate described simply as “grilled salmon” on the menu. The perfectly grilled fish, browned and glistening under a drizzle of rich demi-glace, is beautifully mounted on a bed of buttery asparagus. Underneath the pile of fish and veggies, a Parmesan-crusted cracker adds a lovely crunch to the ricotta-smeared plate, the whole presentation and execution more sophisticated than what you might expect from an unassuming neighborhood cafe. Then there’s butternut squash ravioli, another bistro classic that rivals what you might find in a fine dining room in terms of execution and presentation. While the version here may not break any new culinary ground, the house-made ravioli, tender and redolent with the earthy sweetness of the squash, is fastidiously well prepared, and served with a silky tomato basil bisque garnished with fresh herbs.

During lunch service, the restaurant offers a “Light” menu, which includes a farm-stand quinoa salad that may persuade you to soften your stance against quinoa. The obnoxious ubiquity of this “perfect protein” has exhausted the dining public almost as badly as kale, but it’s hard to find fault with the sweet, fragrant quinoa salad at Duza’s Kitchen, which is sweetened with agave syrup, dates, and grapes. Lime juice and sweet Thai chili sauce, used judiciously, add brightness and spice, for a beautifully balanced bowl that is in turns silky and chunky, sweet and savory.

A neighborhood café, of course, would not be complete without pastries and gourmet coffee drinks, and you’ll find plenty here. There is also a suspiciously-named menu labeled “Fun Drinks,” which includes the Sunrise Surprise turmeric cocktail, a frothy, gingery concoction that tastes like something you might drink in an attempt to cure a serious bodily ailment. As with the rest of the Duza’s Kitchen menu, the drink is surprising, fresh, and full of honest ingredients. But you won’t come for the restaurant’s selection of “fun” health drinks or gourmet espressos. You’ll come for chef Duzic’s menu of obsessively prepared breakfast and lunch entrees, which are refined, often inventive and nearly always memorable.

Duza’s Kitchen
2243 North 12th Street

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday; closed Mondays

Shepherd’s biscuit $8.99
Crab & shrimp benedict $11.99
Pan-seared salmon $8.99
Farm-stand quinoa salad $5.99

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.