Italian eclectic

That's Danny's: restaurant, sports bar, deli

Danny's Italian Grill & Sports Bar's Osso Bucco. Photography by Neal Bruns
Danny's Italian Grill & Sports Bar bruschetta. Photography by Neal Bruns

The newest entry into Fort Wayne’s Italian restaurant world, Danny’s Italian Grill on North Clinton Street, manages to be two concepts in one – and it’s about to add a third.

The large restaurant, decorated in cool greens and browns, is divided into two spaces: a large family room with booths and a sleekly modern bar area, complete with requisite flat-screen TVs tuned to various sporting events. Added early this year will be a deli counter, where customers in a rush will be able to get ready-made sandwiches or cuts of Italian meats and cheeses sliced to order.

Danny’s Italian Grill & Sports Bar opened last August and is owned by Danny Signore, who also owns the Barbee Hotel Restaurant & Bar located between Big and Little Barbee lakes near Warsaw. Signore is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up outside Chicago. His parents, who were from the Potenza region in southern Italy, had a summer home in northern Indiana. He fell in love with the area, and once he bought the hotel and opened Danny’s Sports Bar, he had a hit on his hands. He wanted to open a similar restaurant concept but one that wasn’t too dependent on the cyclical nature of a lake resort.

Hence, he looked east to Fort Wayne and found a large spot in the Washington Square shopping center at North Clinton Street and St. Joe Center Road.

The restaurant’s chef, Greg Musser, studied at Ivy Tech Northeast and trained alongside esteemed local chefs like Tony Valenza of Catablu and Bun Lim at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Musser learned Signore’s recipes when he trained at the Barbee Hotel before Danny’s Italian Grill opened in August. He’s now earning his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Nearby Bishop Dwenger High School students soon discovered Danny’s deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza, created by Musser using Signore’s mother’s recipes, were perfect after-school pick-me-ups.

“It’s nice,” Signore said of the support from Bishop Dwenger’s students and their families. “They’re very big supporters. We’ve had very good feedback.”

The restaurant has also found favor with local restaurant critics, landing on several local “best of” lists for its whitefish in lemon butter and its chicken cacciatore, served with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and banana peppers. The chicken limone is Signore’s favorite, and it’s served with capers on a bed of pasta. The restaurant’s pumpkin cannelloni, a seasonal offering, was particularly praised. The restaurant also offers non-Italian fare such as prime rib and Asian spring rolls. Signore said patrons really love his Key lime pie, which is based on his mom’s recipe.

But no Italian place worth its oregano is complete without pizza, and here Danny’s offers up pies with a twist: the deep dish is served Chicago-style, with the sauce on top and cheese on bottom. The restaurant’s thin-crust pies are cut into squares, instead of the triangles typical in Fort Wayne. It’s what Signore and his general manager Paul Soria grew up eating as kids in Chicago.

“It’s definitely like you’re going over to your friend’s house,” Soria said.

“The pizza is a definitely an ongoing process,” Signore said. “There’s definitely a science to it.”

Danny’s also offers a hot buffet and salad bar for lunch, and Signore plans to open a gelato bar in the summer. The bar area offers craft beers on tap, including some local brews, plus typical “bar food” like wings and burgers.

So does Danny’s have an identity crisis? Is it a restaurant with a sports bar with a deli, or some combination of the three?

“We’re a good Italian (restaurant) with something extra,” Signore said. “We’re an eclectic eatery.”

Danny’s Italian Grill & Sports Bar
6121 N. Clinton St. • (260) 484-4444
dannysitaliangrill.com

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily

Specialties: Italian cuisine with an eclectic twist

Danny’s Shrimp Pesto Pasta

Serves 1

10 ounces fettuccine
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
5 shrimp
1/4 cup diced onion
5-6 broccoli florets
1 tablespoon garlic butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon prepared pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to thicken

1.    Boil water, and add pasta. Cook to al dente, about 10-12 minutes.

2.    Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, sauté shrimp, onion and broccoli in olive oil until shrimp is about half cooked.

3.    Add garlic butter, heavy cream and pesto. Reduce cream mixture until shrimp is fully cooked, then add seasonings and Parmesan cheese.

4.    Drain pasta and toss with shrimp-cream mixture.

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