Stiff competition has lead many restaurateurs to come up with strange concepts to attract attention. There's the Jailhouse, where customers sit in mock prison cells. And there's Marton, where you eat from toilet bowls and the food looks like shit — literally.
Then there's Duke, named after the man who inspired the Dracula legends, Vlad Draculea, aka Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century Romanian prince and notorious torturer who reportedly had 20,000 prisoners skewered on stakes near his capital and left them rotting there to demoralize an invading Turkish army.
The sign outside displays the silhouette of a castle, bats and what appears to be splatters of blood. Inside there are stained glass windows with gothic portraits hanging from the faux stone walls.
But Duke, which is located inside the triangle formed by Roosevelt, Xinhai and Xinsheng South roads, doesn't serve Transylvanian food. The reality, it turns out, is more pedestrian: Duke makes really good sandwiches. You can also get a good hunk of marinated meat on a stick.
“We chose this theme for our restaurant because the Chinese translation of Dracula's name is ‘Skewered Meat Duke’ (肉串公爵),” said Chia Shang-hsuan (賈尚軒), 31, who runs Duke with his cousin. “But really, we're not that scary.”
Indeed the only frightening thing about Duke is that hopefully it will scare nearby restaurants and cafes into improving their sandwiches.
To order a sandwich at Duke, you first choose the meat, chicken, beef, lamb or pork, all of which have been marinated for up to four hours. You then choose from one of five kinds of bread. The loaves are homemade and contain no preservatives. The meat is basted on the grill for roughly five minutes, then topped with pickles, red and yellow peppers, and a sauce.
“In Taiwan, grilled meat is usually Japanese-style. Ours has a Western flavor,” said co-owner Marx Song (宋凱程), 32, who worked as a chef in a Taidung hotel before opening the restaurant.
A sandwich and a drink from Duke's takeout window downstairs, which closes around 11pm, costs NT$125. With a skewer of grilled meat or vegetables the meal costs NT$170. Prices are slightly higher upstairs.
Like a vampire, Duke keeps weird hours. Song said this was because lunchtime customers in the area do not want to wait for their food.