The sky is grey, heavy with the threat of rain, reflected in the cloudy silver splashes of the harbour waves. Gulls float and bob nearby, gentle sprays of water flicking from their wings as they take flight. Azure dimples break up the clouds, a hint that the sun may smile down after all, so I take my chance and sit on the breezy deck of the ferry, watching the water churn and splash as it makes its way to Dartmouth.
The white awning of Ducky's on the Waterfront is a familiar sight to anyone who regularly rides the ferry, just as the frothy wake of the ferry is a familiar sight to the staff at Ducky's.
A wide bank of windows at the front has a beautiful panoramic view of the city. So it's a shame that the inside of the restaurant doesn't capitalize on what could be a very natural embrace of that view. Instead, the decor is wholly disconnected, the room fashioned as a trattoria of sorts, trellising plastic grapes the most distinguishing feature.
There is another disconnect in the menu: a mix of forgettable sandwiches, salads, pizzas and pastas. Ducky's might have a great view, but the menu suggests a lack of point of view.
I order the steak sandwich ($9.95) and my friend orders the grilled artichoke pizza ($14.95). The sandwich, served on a soft kaiser roll, is a pile of grainy, overcooked steak, green pepper and onions under gluey melted cheese. It's served with carrot and celery sticks, dry and tinged with brown, on a bed of lettuce. I pick through it, conjuring up an "Oh, it's fine" when the server asks.
My friend is equally ambivalent about her pizza, served split in two, a serviceable Caesar salad plated between the two halves. Neither the artichokes nor the peppers have the deep, ashy flavour of promised grilling and roasting. The onions have a nice caramel colour, but don't make up for the overall blandness.
We linger with coffee ($2) and a shared apple, pear and rhubarb crumble ($6.95). The dessert is a lovely balance of sweet and tart. The buttery crumble and tender chunks of apple and rhubarb make up for our uninspired entrees.
Encouraged by the pleasant finish to the meal, two days later I head back for brunch with another friend. "Welcome back," the server says, smiling, as she fills our water glasses. It's Saturday morning and the farmers' market is in swing just outside the restaurant, replete with fresh produce and local inspiration, a reminder of the restaurant's unseen potential.
The brunch menu is small, concise. I order the eggs Charlotte ($10.95), a Benedict variation with smoked salmon. My friend orders the breakfast bagel ($6.95). Coffee is served in big cups and refilled often.
The plates are simple. A handful of potatoes and a few slices of apple accent each meal. The apple, much like the veggies from lunch earlier in the week, are dry and taste old. The potatoes, however, are fantastic. They're well-seasoned and tender, crispy and golden-brown on the edges. The poached eggs are great, with fluffy whites and slightly runny yolks. The Hollandaise is applied with a light touch---which I like---and is delicious with the smoky, buttery salmon. The fried egg on the bagel sandwich has a crispiness to it that is very tasty with the generous slab of cheddar and ham, adding up to a satisfying breakfast.
There are clearly bright spots in the drabness at Ducky's, but without any assertion of personality or passion, I question whether or not they can really shine. They certainly wouldn't have to look far for inspiration.