I'm grateful a friend who worked in the Fairport area introduced me to Durf's several years ago; I'm not sure I would've discovered it on my own. Durf's is set back from Fairport's Main Street, amid a small mix of businesses, and not readily visible when passing by. But the restaurant is well worth seeking out for its solid diner food, much of it homemade, at extraordinarily reasonable prices.
Durf's opened in 1974 on the Seabreeze burger-joint strip, but Robert Durfee moved his business in 1977 to Fairport — to a location that had (improbably) housed a car wash — where it has been since. In many ways, Durf's is a quintessential small-town diner: black-and-white checkered tablecloths, counter seating, servers who know your name and your order, and where getting a table during prime time breakfast hours can be a challenge. However, Durf's stands apart from many diners, not only for its roughhewn wooden paneling festooned with taxidermied fish and deer, but most notably to me, for its perch.
If you travel west to Cleveland, or to many of the communities along Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline, perch is a common offering at places like Durf's. In the Rochester area, however, freshwater fish is a rarity on menus. To my tastes, there is no better freshwater eating fish than perch, and no place does it better than Durf's. With fish, freshness is everything. An avid fisherman, Robert Durfee catches (in several Finger Lakes), cleans and filets the perch his restaurant serves.
Lightly breaded and deep fried with no seasoning — "The taste of the fish is the seasoning," says Robert's son, Andy Durfee, who manages Durf's — a basket of perch contains about eight ounces of golden, delicate and delicious strips of perch filets, served with lemon wedges and homemade tartar sauce. Simple and full of flavor. If you're looking for Durf's perch, it's best to call ahead, because it's only available when Robert has had a successful outing, and before it runs out.
Any diner worth its salt serves hearty breakfast food, and serves it all day long. Durf's is no exception. On one recent visit, one of the standout dishes was the A.M. Perinton Landfill, something of a breakfast garbage plate. An immense burger topped with Durf's homemade chili, a cinnamony Rochester-style hot sauce, fried peppers and onions, and finally, two eggs cooked the way you like 'em are set atop a bed of crispy home fries. The toast (marble rye, in this case) on the side serves well for clean-up duty for the messy scrumptious fusion of flavors. Durf's also serves homemade raspberry preserves with the toast that accompanies breakfasts. But the somewhat underwhelming breakfast entrées we tried were the western omelet — somewhat loose and runny — and the Belgian waffle, which my friend described as, "Exactly what I'd expect from a diner; they're not punching above their weight."
My personal benchmark for any diner is its hot, gravy-laden roast beef (or turkey) sandwich. Durf's distinguishes its sandwich by providing diners with the option of having it on a hard bulkie roll (instead of sliced bread). Durf's roasts and slices its own beef, which was lean and succulent — although I would have preferred it a little more pinkish. The homemade gravy was rich, with a deep beefy flavor, if a bit too salty. The abundant (another key factor for me) gravy worked well on the crisp, natural-cut French fries I had on the side.
During a visit, to our good fortune, Durf's had homemade cherry cobbler on the specials board. With a subtle vanilla essence and crushed walnuts, this was the highlight finale of the day's lunch. The New England-style clam chowder I had prior to my sandwich (Durf's usually has two homemade soups on its menu each day) was less successful. It had a substantial clam content, diced small, as were the potatoes, and was satisfying on this abnormally cool April day, but it was a bit on the gelatinous side.
In addition to catching his own perch for the restaurant, Robert Durfee also sells his own maple syrup, which he culls from his family's maple sugar farm (maharmaple.com) in Middletown Springs, Vermont. The maple syrup and the food keep people coming back time after time.