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The hearty Cottage Pie and Chicken Pot Pie at Duff's in Encinitas. Photo by David Boylan
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Lick the Plate: The Cottage Pie at Duff’s is a good thing

Having a son who was raised between Encinitas and England, I have made several trips to the U.K. and Wales and I’m a fan of their hearty fare. And while Scotland has its own cuisine specific to the region, there is a lot of crossover going on with some of the daily dishes. So when I heard that Duff’s at the Beach in Encinitas served “Scottish-inspired pub fare” I was intrigued.

Let me say up front I did not expect to see haggis on the menu. That would be a bit too authentic for coastal Encinitas and I doubt they would have sold many. If you don’t know, haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt in a stock base and traditionally encased in the animals stomach. Sounds delicious, right?

Anyway, haggis aside, I did come across a few items on the Duff’s menu that have origins in the British Isles and definitely fit the hearty fare description perfect for the cooler weather we’ve had of late.

Cottage Pie is one of those dishes so I had to give it a try. Duff’s version is a sizeable portion of ground beef, celery, onion, carrots, peas and red potatoes topped with a potato crust. And while I’ve had shepherd’s pie on numerous occasions in the U.K. I honestly did not know what the difference was between them. Turns out it’s in the meat. According to those in the know, shepherd’s pie should only be named as such if it contains lamb, and cottage pie applies to one made with minced meat, or hamburger as we call it. The name cottage pie came into use around the end of the 18th century. It was around that time that poorer rural folks in Britain who lived in cottages in the country started using potatoes as an everyday food. Originally a pie made with any kind of meat and mashed potato was called a cottage pie. So there you have it! Duff’s does it right though, and while I easily could have taken half of it home for a nice leftover I ended up devouring the whole portion and it was mighty fine.

We were on a hearty fare theme during our Saturday afternoon visit so my friend ordered up the Chicken Pot Pie. It was the same sizeable portion as the Cottage Pie and was loaded with chicken, carrots, red potatoes, celery, onion and peas and topped with a puff pastry. There was no shortage of chicken and the savory gravy was really nice.

Both these dishes were in the Pub Fare section of the menu that also included Mulligan Stew with cubed beef and the standard carrots, onions peas and potatoes but served in a house baked break bowl. A Truffled Mac & Cheese with Cavatappi pasta, white cheddar, truffle oil and graham cracker crust rounded out the pub fare offerings.

I should back up and mention Grandma’s Meatballs that we ordered as a starter. Three all-beef meatballs with a house red sauce and mozzarella were not what we expected from a Scottish-influenced pub, but they were not bad. About the only other thing I saw on the menu that had any type of U.K. influence were the Corned Beef Sliders with melted Swiss and house made sauerkraut.

The rest of the menu looked like standard American bar food with a selection of appetizers, salads, sliders and hand-tossed pizzas. I’m not sure how that differentiates it but they do it at Duff’s and have 10 pies to choose from including one with those meatballs we had that I’m thinking would be a good one to try.

There is an extensive beer and wine list at Duff’s and if you save room you can walk next door to Handle’s Ice Cream that seems to be all the rage these days. Duff’s claims an all-scratch kitchen and it’s a great location to hit up after a day at the Moonlight Beach right around the corner.

The Duff’s idea began in Greenwich, Connecticut, where the Sievwright brothers, originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, opened the original MacDuff’s Public House in 2005. After opening a second MacDuff’s location in South Lake Tahoe in 2010 they opened a scaled-down version of the pub and the Duff’s at the Beach concept was born.

And for your final history lesson of the day, I’ll close with a bit about the history of the name. The Duffs descended from the original Gaels who inhabited the Highlands of Scotland before the Roman invasion and the Christian era. Their ancient Gaelic name, Dhuibh, is pronounced Duff, and signifies a man of dark complexion and dark hair. The first Scottish Highlanders were members of ancient Germanic tribes characterized by a giant stature and great endurance. So there you go, and of course there is always “Duff Man” from the Simpsons.

Check them out at 90 N Coast Hwy 101, Suite 208, Encinitas or

Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at