By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
Some people have visited Danny’s multiple times and never noticed the full-size antique Venetian gondola hanging upside-down from the ceiling. It’s not just that they don’t happen to gaze at ceilings much for fear of tripping over something, but because the fascinating visual chaos of this place makes it hard to process everything you’re seeing.
The walls are filled with cartoons, paintings, caricatures, and historic pictures of Venice in the 1920s and 30s. TVs flicker in several corners, and when we visited, a band played energetic jazz and torch songs onstage. It would be easy to miss a little thing like a 15-foot-long ornate boat hanging from the ceiling.
If this restaurant located on a colonnaded arcade on Windward Avenue in Venice decided to become a museum of local history, they’d already have a good start on their exhibits. I’m hoping they remain a restaurant, because becoming a museum might involve closing the bar and ceasing food service, and based on a recent visit they do those things remarkably well for a modestly priced place.
Danny’s may have started as a deli and still retains a few traditional items like matzah ball soup on the menu, but the focus now is more on burgers, bar food, and eclectica. When we visited, a helpful server named Danny – not the owner, he hastened to inform us – showed us to a table, took drink orders, and cheerfully volunteered his opinion of which items were best.
We started with a “Boardwalk Salad,” greens with strawberries, tomato, feta cheese, blackberries, and watermelon with a citrus vinaigrette. Combined fruit and vegetable salads have become popular lately because they’re delightful, with sweetness and tartness hitting just right, and this one was bountiful and nicely composed. We also tried the split pea soup, a classic deli item that was served with bagel chips. There is actually a lot of latitude for creativity in pea soup, some of which includes bacon, onion, barley, and other items, but this one was straightforward. It was a thick vegetarian version with a little chopped carrot and subtle seasoning – classic comfort food.
We paired this with lemonade, a chocolate shake, and a Goose Island Honkers ale from their very good beer list – the items by tap and bottle are well-chosen here, and even a serious beer snob will find something to like. The Honkers was good, but the Leffe Belgian ale that I tried next was even better, richly spicy and a great food beer.
I had hoped to continue with their Cajun buttermilk fried chicken, but some combination of technical difficulties made that impossible. My companions ordered their meals, a salmon burger and pulled pork sandwich, while I scanned the menu for a backup choice, and on a whim I decided on a flatiron steak. The salmon burger was tasty, a healthy slab of nicely cooked fish with the right amount of fixings to enhance but not overwhelm the spicing on the fish, and we appreciated the good kosher pickle and freshly made house potato chips that came with it.
We all liked the pulled pork even better – one of my companions lived in the South for many years and knows her pulled pork, and she proclaimed this particularly good for something made by “Yankees.” The sauce had the proper sweet and sour balance that comes from a generous shot of vinegar, with just a little spiciness on the finish. A pulled pork sandwich is always served with cole slaw, and this one was creamy and just a little sweet. She had chosen fries as a side, and they arrived fresh, crisp, and lightly salted, just as we like them.
My meal was unbalanced – the steak was surprisingly tender and tasty and served in a very good Cabernet sauce, but accompanied only by a gigantic mound of mashed potatoes. At $22 it was the most expensive thing on the menu – they might have cut back on the spuds and served a side of vegetables to make a better balanced and more attractive plate. It was an odd lapse in judgment from a kitchen that had otherwise been sensitive.
Dinner for three with beverages was $82 – not bad at all for the quality and quantity just steps from the beach. Danny’s offers a surprisingly good casual dining option with quirky décor and good service – a welcome surprise anywhere you find it.
Danny’s is at 23 Windward Ave. in Venice. Open 10 a.m. – midnight Su-Thu, 10 a.m. – 2 a.m. Fri/Sa. Street parking only, full bar, children OK. Website dannysvenice.com. 310-566-5610.