A Little Soul Never Hurt the Man
By Nancy Powell
It’s easy to drive right past Day-Day & Duke’s, surrounded as it is by Chinese food and donuts, a taco stand and seedy looking businesses. Pulling into a small lot off Loranne Avenue, I have to thread my way into the liquor store on the corner before the Asian clerk finally points me in the right direction—next door, it seems. A standing sign I missed while driving directs me into an immaculate, small, nine-table dining room with a four-seat counter and starch white walls. Standing right behind the counter of the empty dining room is the eponymous Day-Day, the robust and gruff cook who Duke (the outgoing sidekick, business partner and PR mastermind) calls “the man with the master plan on recipes.” However, talk food and the gruffness melts into effervescent passion. And yes, the boy can cook some mean soul food.
As I seat myself at one of the two-person tables, Duke graciously offers me a mason jar of grape Kool-Aid. Yes, Kool-Aid. It’s the only other drink the restaurant serves besides sweet tea and pink lemonade. One sip and I am transported back to hot summer afternoons spent on the back porch of Grandma’s house sipping ice-cold glasses of sugary happiness. The menu consists of four pages of Southern classics and a menu board of daily specials, including Day-Day’s Thursday special, oxtail served over a bed of jasmine curry rice. Unfortunately for me, it’s not available on the day of my visit.
The first dish that Day-Day whips up for me is Slim Da Mobster, split into equal parts chicken wing drumettes, eggs sunny-side up, home-style potatoes. It is served with a crispy and chewy waffle dusted in warm and welcoming cinnamon whose scent lingers pleasingly in the air. Day-Day does a good job with the chicken drumettes, which are crispy and juicy to the bite. This dish would make a great game-night treat.
Next up on the list is Kayla’s Jambalaya, a house favorite and my favorite on Day-Day’s menu. The Cajun rice retains a moist, almost dreamy, pudding-like quality reminiscent of risotto. It has a sweet and fragrant tomato essence with a noticeable kick of Cajun spice. I pair it with sides of fried okra, black-eyed peas, collard greens and hush puppies. The hush puppies are dense and a little heavy for my palate, but the fried okra pieces feel remarkably light despite its battered exterior. In fact, Day-Day substitutes smoked turkey for pork in his recipes, and this lends his side dishes a saltier, but richer, density.
Despite the heaviness of the cuisine, which reigns in carbs and protein, Day-Day sure wields a light, but deft, hand when it comes to capturing the authentic characteristics of soul food. No doubt this is due to his heritage; after all, while Day-Day himself is a Pomona native, his family hails from Natchez, Mississippi and so soul food is in his blood. There aren’t any fancy frills to be had at Day-Day & Duke’s, but this should not be a concern given the man’s obvious talents behind the stove.
Day-Day & Duke’s Wafflehouse, 994 E. Holt Ave., Pomona, (909) 622-3127;www.facebook.com/Dayday-N-Dukes-Wafflehouse. Sun-Sat, 7am-7pm. MC, V.