Eighteen months ago, a small eatery with an odd name opened in a strip mall on the Norwalk-Wilton line. It was then that our own April Guilbault clued readers in on what The Dilly Duck Shop was all about.
Fast forward to present day. Word about The Dilly Duck Shop is getting out, and it’s all been positive for chef Russ Zappala and his mother, Phyllis, who runs the front of the house. “We’ve somehow maintained solid online ratings across the board, five stars,” Russ said. “We haven’t been able to fully commit to advertising, so we rely on that, and word of mouth. It spreads slowly, but we’ve noticed growth every month.”
That word of mouth is what brought me to Dilly Duck in the first place. Locals talk about it, as do Fairfield County chefs. Zappala’s philosophy that’s worked so far is to grow organically with the community and create a menu that the people here yearn for.
Dilly Duck is a darling amongst its regulars for a reason. You can decide as to why. Maybe it’s the yolk explosion breakfast sandwiches, the juicy rotisserie pork, homemade pastries, fresh salads, or their credible coffee program featuring locally roasted beans. Chances are, you’re into it for more than one tasty reason.
While the food does contribute to its early success, Zappala credits his mom and his small staff tenfold. “It wasn’t intended to be a permanent thing with my mom here, but we work well together. I’m glad she wanted to keep doing this,” he said. “And I couldn’t do this without Danielle Featherstone, who’s new in the kitchen, and Michelle DeGeronimo (their baker). It’s because of them that we’re able to do more.”
The Dilly Duck Shop’s growth in popularity, combined with a more than capable team, resulted in a few extras for their customers; when summer hours aren’t in effect, they’ll keep the door open until 6:30 and they’ve slightly expanded their menu.
The menu additions, Zappala says, won’t be a surprise to regulars because most were offered as specials to test demand. The part healthy, part hearty new stuff starts in the morning. There are oatmeal bowls with DD’s house nut granola, and yogurt bowls that evolved from previously offered parfaits, one with seasonal fruit, granola, and agave, and another with acai, hemp seeds, and fruit.
On the flipside of light and healthy, you can choose an order of bravas fries; crispy fingerlings topped with roasted pork, jalapeños, and bacon aioli with the option of adding a couple eggs. There are also a couple of towering scrambles to dive into. One is for meat lovers (scrambled eggs, roasted pork, bacon, potatoes, arugula, and a refreshing tomato jus), the other replaces pork for roasted vegetables.
Later in the day—if you’re not crushing one of Dilly Duck’s sandwiches or roasted meat platters—there’s a deep-dish style seasonal quiche of the moment, a strictly vegetarian hummus and falafel, and a fork tender skirt steak in a shallow pool of beef jus from the rotisserie with addicting hand-cut frites. If you have the latter, ask for a side of bacon aioli to dip your fries in.
And there’s pasta. “I’m Italian, so it’s easy to go in that direction, and it’s a pleasure to offer it because it’s my culture,” Zappala said. “I want to rep all of New England, so pasta was always in the plans. One is vegetarian and there’s Bolognese with homemade sausage that I’ve been making my whole life.”
There’s a chance these specials will change, but that’s the beauty of the “shop” moniker, it gives Zappala and crew the license to do whatever they want. It’s not, as he puts it, “Russ’ Deli,” so, they don’t have to adhere to a particular focus. What he cares about at the end of the day is that people are enjoying his food. But there’s one more thing he thinks is cool. “It’s the customer connection. You realize that some of them know each other, and occasionally I’ll look into the dining room and realize I know everyone there.”
The Dilly Duck Shop
666 Main Avenue; Norwalk
(203) 956-0040; www.thedillyduckshop.com