“Really?” asked my twin sons, as we pulled up at DD’s, a diner in Ossining that I had been recommended by someone who knows his grub as well as his diners.
True, I had driven them 35 minutes across Westchester on a Sunday evening when they would rather have been doing whatever it is 17 year olds like to do at this time of the week, with the promise of a slap-up meal in a delightful setting on the Hudson. As young men about town and the spoiled sons of a critic, doubtless they had been expecting a fine-dining establishment, soft candlelight and very possibly the strum of gypsy guitars. Maybe the odd celeb at a neighboring table, too. What they got instead was faux-wood, Formica and frosted glass. And not so much as a glimpse of the Hudson River.
Installed in a booth, though, Olympic-sized menus in their hands, they started to cheer up. We admired the retro look, all the more impressive since I later learned that DD’s only opened five years ago. Son No. 1 said the circular, fabric lampshades — which I kind of thought looked like upturned drums — had a 1930s, Bauhaus look. (He’s the one who wants to be an architect, you understand.) Son No. 2 said the place had a “juke box jive.” (He’s into his music.) This was true, but, ironically, one of the things DD’s was missing, at least on the evening we visited, was just that — music. It could have done with a bit of “Jailhouse Rock” to get the party going.
But back to those menus. Seriously, the entire Ossining White Pages, printed in a continuous column, could not be any longer than this monster of a bill-of-fare, with its eggs, pancakes, soups, quesadillas and salads; its taters, tacos, paninis, wraps and sandwiches; and yet more still with its “standards,” “classics,” entrées, and famous “Not Your Mom’s Mac & Cheese.” Just imagine that last one if you can — seven iterations of mac and cheese, each baked in an iron skillet. (True, I don’t know your mom or her cooking, and likely as not nor does co-owner and chef Michael Lombardi, but I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that she doesn’t make you duck and truffle mac, at least not on a regular basis.)
We attacked the starters. A generous heaping of tuna tartare came with guacamole and wonton chips, an embarrassment of riches. Macaroni and cheese balls, breaded and deep fried, which should have had “carb alert” stamped across their menu listing, retained an extraordinary lightness. An onion soup, piping hot under its heavy overcoat of gruyère, was dense with onion and intense. We gave a thumbs-up to the quesadillas, served with yet more guacamole and a sour cream drizzle.
Spanakopita, that Greek favorite of flaky phyllo pastry, filled with spinach and feta, was delicious in two Herculean parcels that could hold up a continent. The boys tried penne alla vodka and “nicely al dente, not too much vodka,” was their verdict. I wasn’t entirely clear whether this was a good or bad thing, but they finished their large portions regardless. I opted for the salmon burger, a dinner special, as if this encyclopedia of a menu needed additional “specials.” It ticked all the boxes, fresh and spicy, served in a soft brioche bun, with a good tartare sauce, terrific “three tone” slaw and golden fries.
I pressed milk shakes, floats and an elusive New York egg cream on the boys, but they, who are always hungry, on this occasion were beaten. “No, no, no,” they pleaded, “not another thing,” as though I were torturing them, which, of course, I was, But who ever said the restaurant writer’s job was an easy one? We settled instead for a sundae, since after all it was a Sunday. (“Please, Dad, do not on any account make that joke in print,” they begged me again, and somehow, miraculously, appetites — mine included — revived sufficiently to enjoy chocolate and vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
Our verdict was unanimous: We all loved DD’s, even if the service was utterly shambolic. Dishes brought before silverware, water forgotten, dishes banged down with the elegance of a cobbler hammering a particularly recalcitrant boot. Not that we could really blame our young (and apparently new) server, whom I’ve no doubt is terribly nice to seniors and injured wildlife. In all honesty, he had not been sufficiently trained to be on the restaurant floor unaided and on a quiet Sunday evening, probably after a busy day, all eyes, including his, were off the ball.
The bill finally brought, after so long a wait I had almost grown a beard or at least stubble, something clicked. It was those darn lampshades that had been bothering my subconscious, and now I knew what they reminded me of. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York — turned upside down, of course. I ran this thought by the budding architect. “Yes,” he conceded, “that’s exactly it,” a rare point to dad.
It had been a lovely, bonding dinner and as we left the restaurant and headed north up steep, Stormytown Road, there was a bonus. We finally got our river vista — a stunning view across Croton Bay, as the sun set on the horizon beyond.
Along with some very good food, that last ember of an evening at DD’s will stay indelibly in my mind.
Reservations are not accepted. To view DD’s menu, visit ddsdiner.com