Walking into Doriola's is like walking into the one restaurant in a very small town. Everyone seems to know one another. The servers chat with their customers like old friends. Menu reading is perfunctory -- as if people know what they're going to order before they even sit down. Single diners sip lattes and read from their Kindles. In the back room, a group of women play cards with a late-night intensity and look as if they've been there for hours.
The decor is eclectic; knick-knacks, jewelry and the restaurant's own cookbooks are for sale by the register. A rotating display of local artwork covers the walls (abstract landscapes on my first visit and some charming studies of Xtratufs on my second). It's a welcoming, soothing space -- one that makes you want to turn your phone off and stay awhile.
I met a friend for a midweek lunch and we were lucky to grab the last available table. Despite a packed house, we got menus and expertly prepared cappuccinos right away (Doriola's offers a Steamdot coffee menu). The lunch menu is limited but focused: sandwiches, salads, soups and quiche, with daily specials of each.
I ordered a sandwich special, the Summit ($7 for a half, $12 for a whole): a combination of turkey, ham, and cheese enlivened by a spicy sriracha-mayo combo. It comes warm and crispy to the table. Hearty, well constructed and stuffed with high-quality ingredients, the sandwich is familiar but has the contemporary kick of heat from the sriracha. And because it's toasted -- not fried in butter -- you get the decadence of melted cheese without the greasy weight of a traditionally grilled sandwich. It's a (slightly) lighter choice -- you feel satisfied but not gluttonous.
My friend ordered the chicken and rice soup ($9) -- one of the day's specials. It arrived in a large bowl with a plate of brown bread and butter, making it a complete and hearty meal. The soup was teeming with chunks of roast chicken and perfectly cooked vegetables that held their shape in the bowl but dissolved deliciously as they were eaten. The broth was not the light clear broth of a pho-type soup but had, rather, a silky, creamy quality. An abundance of fresh herbs lent a brightness to this otherwise homey soup.
We left happy. Even without the complimentary chocolate chip cookies that arrive with the bill, the meal would have been a sweet memory.
I returned the following week for lunch with my daughters. This time I ordered cream of wild rice soup ($9) -- one of the day's specials -- and the Tweaked BLT ($7 for a half, $12 for a whole). Like the Summit, this is an old-school sandwich with a kick; added to the thick-cut bacon and heap of lettuce was an intense and zesty sun-dried tomato spread. This BLT has a bit of an attitude.
Again, the soup was a dream. The rich, creamy broth was replete with an earthy blend of perfectly al dente wild rices. Flecks of carrots, celery and, above all, bacon added substance and nuance to this bowl of comfort. This was the kind of dish that will have me trying to crack Doriola's soup-rotation-schedule code -- the kind of soup you plan your day around. (Note: You can easily check Doriola's specials on their website, which they update daily. You can also check their Facebook posts.) And while not all of Doriola's soups are gluten-free, the four soups available during my two visits were. Those are pretty good odds if you have to avoid wheat.
My older daughter and I shared the quiche ($7 for a half, $12 for a whole). Or, as I prefer to call it: The Quiche. It was a revelation. And what it revealed was that, for years, I have been making terrible quiche. I guess I've gotten used to the uninspired, rubbery, scrambled egg pies that pass for quiche in most places. But one bite of Doriola's traditional Lorraine re-set the bar. It is silky and custardy and disappears, cloud-like on your tongue. The buttery crust, the subtle, four-cheese blend that create delicate strings of melted goodness on the tines of your fork, the perfect touch of bacon that adds just a hint of smoky saltiness all combine to make an elegant, perfect pie. This is the lunch that launched a thousand cookbooks.
My younger daughter ordered a toasted Nutella/marshmallow sandwich ($7) from the children's menu. Sadly, they were out of marshmallows but she managed to eat her Nutella-only sandwich anyway. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nutella is not a sandwich spread. It's sandwich frosting.
Hot homemade soups, overstuffed, well-prepared, sandwiches and the quiche of the gods: it's no wonder the dining room is always bustling. Going to Doriola's is like a culinary hug: comforting, cozy, nurturing. So the only question that remains is, how do I get in on that backroom card game?
?Winter hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, closed Saturday and Sunday
Location: 510 W. Tudor Road, #7
Contact: 907-375-0494 and doriolas.com