Duke’s: Where family memories are made

By M.V. Moorhead

“Honestly, we wanted someplace where all three
of us would want to go.”
Within that encapsulated bit of history from Jaime
Ponder, one of the three founders of Duke’s Tavern, lies
the gastronomic raison de e’tre of the owners’ foray into
opening one of the east Valley’s newest—and potentially
most appealing—dining destinations.
“Someplace with great food—someplace where you
could go and watch the game, or you could bring the
family.”
So far, so good.
You can certainly watch the game on any of several TV
screens in the roomy, airy eatery and bar at the northeast
corner of Ray and Rural roads in Chandler, which opened
last October.
I took my family there on a recent Saturday afternoon,
and we ate our fill from Dukes’ long and varied menu of
pub-grub favorites done right.
“All of the recipes are stuff we came up with, sort of
home cooking,” says Ponder, an Ohio native and veteran of
the Columbus-based chain Max and Erma’s. She and her
partners Amy Mills Scheufler and Justin Azelton, who met
while working at Chandler’s New York Pizza Department,
take pride in the from-scratch nature of Dukes’ food.
“We honestly do everything in-house, except for bread,
which we buy from a local bakery.”
Among the goodies we tried were the wings, available
accompanied by such sauces as Chipotle BBQ and Sriracha
BBQ. We kept it simple—the Bourbon BBQ—and weren’t
disappointed.
We also tested Duke’s skill at the all-important burger
by trying the sliders, and these too proved worth the
tummy space—beefy and juicy but not greasy.
Duke’s offers somewhat more ambitious fare as well.
The tasty Greek Chicken Pasta, with feta, cherry tomatoes
and olives in a light sauce, makes a hearty but not heavy
option for the coming warm weather.
The only slight letdown, for me, was the hummus—a
bit thin and soupy for my taste. I actually liked the olive
tapenade that’s served with it better than the hummus
itself.
Maybe the highlight of the menu, however, is the
Reuben. Duke’s does the deli classic traditionally—corned
beef with sauerkraut and swiss cheese—but to snappy,
vibrantly flavorful perfection between slices of marbled rye.
“We slow-roast our own corned beef,” says Ponder,
“which most places don’t do. Our Reuben is one of the best
Reubens.” The pride seems to me justified—it’s one of the
best Reubens I’ve ever had, too.
The very spaciousness of Duke’s is part of its appeal—
it doesn’t have the cramped, jostling feel that so many
watering holes have. And this extends to an outdoor space,
as well.
Says Ponder:
“What sold us on the place is that it has an awesome
patio, something that wasn’t really capitalized on by the
previous owner.”
The Duke’s Tavern trio are capitalizing. “Since we
finished the patio,” says Ponder, “we’ve done a 40th
birthday party; we’ve done a wedding rehearsal dinner;
we’re doing a wedding reception.”
In short, Duke’s is shaping up to be not only a place to
watch the game or get a bite with the family, but a place
where family memories can be made.

Duke’s Tavern is at 4910 W. Ray Road, just west of
the Sunset branch library. Hours: 11-midnight, Sunday-
Thursday; 11-2 a.m. on Friday & Saturday. Phone:
480-993-3359.

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