Rigatoni with vodka sauce at Danny's (photo by Joseph Storch)
As part of my job, I spend a lot of time looking for authentic Italian restaurants, where they're using 00 flour for their pizzas and making their pappardelle from scratch; I often overlook the mom-and-pop red sauce joints that most diners seem to favor. Every now and then I'll stumble across a throwback from the Rat Pack era, the kind of place where the owner not only knows you and your kids on a first-name basis, but probably attended the wedding of your cousin. Danny's Deli and Catering is just such a place. Located in Melrose Park, about a mile South of the old Kiddieland, the restaurant is tucked into a cozy residential neighborhood, not unlike the familiar surroundings at Freddy's Pizza in Cicero. How red sauce is it? Let's put it this way: if you think you've seen a lot of my headshots in Chinatown, they're nothing compared to the praise they got from Pat Bruno's review in the Sun-Times, who lamented that if he could, he "would eat at Danny's four times a week." His review has been plastered around the inside and outside of the restaurant, as if The Chairman himself had proclaimed this his favorite Italian place outside of Jersey.
Pork neck bones in marinara from Danny's (photo by Joseph Storch)
Twice a week, the restaurant offers its special neck bone entree - a mound of roasted pork bones piled a foot high - coated in rich marinara (gravy) and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Baccala is another weekly special, and if they have the polenta coated in gravy with crumbled sausage, get it. I was particularly struck by the "Home of the Fried Meatball Sandwich" shirts that all of the waitresses wear. This calling card invites analysis, and when you go back in the kitchen, you can see why it's so special. Instead of forming the ground chuck, garlic, breadcrumbs and herbs into spheres, they're pressed into flat patties, then cooked on a flat top grill. Placed into soft, crusty rolls from a local baker, you can coat them in tomato gravy if you wish, or just leave them as-is. Either way, it's a sandwich that will easily feed two.
Fried meatball sandwich at Danny's (photo by Joseph Storch)
You can see more from Danny's tonight, including their fried romaine with chunks of homemade sausage, right here, after 10:30 p.m.