The Crooked Duck’s moniker derives from a legend owner Joseph (Joey) Rooney’s uncle told to him as a child. While at the family’s summer house on Island Lake in Illinois, his uncle relays a story about a man who was water-skiing on the lake and accidentally hit a duck. Witnesses were horrified by this incident and as they stare at the lifeless duck floating on the water certain it is dead, the duck started moving and swam to shore in a very peculiar manner. After reaching the shore, it was quite obvious the duck’s neck is now crooked, but nevertheless, it waddled away. Afterwards, from time to time, people would see the duck with the crooked neck out on the lake, a testament to the resilience of this duck. Joey never forgot the story and aptly named his restaurant after it.
Great story right? Well, a great story doesn’t make me want to go back to a restaurant if the food isn’t good enough to back it up. I am here for dinner with a friend and it is difficult to select what we want to eat. He wants to leave the ordering up to me and I want it to be a joint decision.
While we peruse the menu, the manager brings us a little sample of the restaurant’s signature Duck Chili ($4.50 cup/$6.25 bowl), an original recipe including 5-spice, black beans and wonton chips. It is rather lovely with a hearty texture and robust flavor.
We also are given a taste of the Soup of the Day ($3.75 cup/$5.25 bowl) which, on this day is curry carrot — so delicate and sublime you’ll think you’re eating in a fine dining establishment. If you want a sample of of one of these, feel free to ask as they are very happy to oblige.
Of course, my obssession with poultry wings means I have to order Wings! Wings! Wings! ($8.95). There are several flavors to choose from, but our server Mary suggests the mango BBQ, as the chef makes it in-house. I am always blown away when a small neighborhood eatery makes things in-house and end up with a barrage of questions for Mary — the sweetest gal you’ll ever find by the way!
When I see “PCH” Coconut Prawns ($13.95), I snicker and murmur to my friend that there is no way this is made in-house, but no, I am so wrong. These plump shrimp arrive with a wonderful snap to them with a nice coating of coconut attached. I have only eaten house-made coconut shrimp in a handful of establishments and never expected a place like this to serve anything other than the flat, butterflied, previously frozen variety. I am very impressed!!
We want to try a variety of offerings from the menu, so a sandwich is in order. After much deliberation, we settle on French Dip Au Jus ($10.25) because the chef makes the roast beef himself from scratch. The French roll is a tad dense, but suffices when stuffed with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and horseradish cream. I like the marriage of flavors, especially that of the jus — not overly salty, but packed with flavor.
There are a handful of selections specifically after 5pm and we choose Meatloaf w/Caramelized Onions ($14.95). A generous slice of moist meatloaf is smothered with red eye gravy, served with mashed potatoes and a daily vegetable. On this evening, we have spaghetti squash which is unadulterated allowing for its natural flavors to shine through. It is sweet and very pleasant. The mashed potatoes are absolutely perfect and I don’t even like mashed potatoes. We ask about the red eye gravy and it is the house gravy with some ground coffee mixed in. Very interesting! I do not taste the coffee, but there is definitely a hint of something smoky in it.
My dining companion wants to try Icelandic Cod & Chips ($14.95) but I tell him I am very particular when it comes to fish and chips. Nevertheless, we go ahead an order. The pub brew style fish arrives with an incredibly crispy beer batter enveloping the beautifully flaky fish. I am impressed. My pet peeve when it comes to fish and chips is how a pool of water releases into my mouth when I bite into it. Previously frozen fish makes for horrible fish and chips — or any other fish for that matter. These pieces of fish are individually battered and fried to golden perfection. I like how they do not server the fish in one large piece. By serving several smaller pieces, it ensures good crispy texture throughout. We eat it with malt vinegar, but there is also a lemon chive tartar served alongside if you like that. There is a dollop of Joey’s slaw and shoestring fries as sides, but I want more of the very tasty slaw.
My friend wants a slice of the Homemade Coconut Cream Pie ($6.95) but I only take a bite for taste. It is unique in that there is a coconut peanut truffle layer on the flaky crust, then topped with coconut custard, sprinkled with toasted coconut, and finished with whipped cream.
The Crooked Duck is truly a neighborhood gem. It is not fine dining, nor is it your typical diner, but what you can expect to find is a friendly atmosphere with solid comfort food served by personable folks. It is a win-win situation all around.
The Crooked Duck
5096 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Long Beach, CA 90804