Daniel D. Dickman -- the founder and longtime owner of Danny's restaurant, a Baltimore dining landmark for a quarter of a century -- died Saturday of a heart attack at his home on Charles Street. He was 77.
In its heyday, Danny's was the city's most renowned restaurant. The room at the corner of Charles and Biddle streets in Mount Vernon was lauded by national publications for its fine, French-oriented food and extensive wine list, and beloved locally as a special occasion destination.
"Culinarily speaking, he put Baltimore on the map," Diane F. Neas, a local restaurant consultant, said yesterday. "For years and years and years, Danny's was the restaurant in Baltimore."
Though some were put off by the four-dollar-sign prices that accompanied Danny's four-star food, devotees loved the warmth and lack of pretension Mr. Dickman brought to the restaurant. "He always personally attended everyone. He seemed to get a great joy [from] serving people," said Mary Zinman, who dined frequently at the restaurant with her husband, David Zinman.Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director.
Danny's might be one of the most idiosyncratic restaurants to receive the Holiday magazine Award for Distinctive Dining or to get a four-star rating in the Mobil Travel Guide.
Before serving entrees such as tournedos tranche Rossini (beef topped with pate), Danny's homey waitresses would bring to the table creamy cottage cheese, huge, hot popovers and gigantic pickles. Each spring, a banner would appear outside the restaurant with the words "The Run Is On," a reference to the running of shad, one of the house specialties.
Mr. Dickman was born into the food business. As a boy, he dipped ice cream at his father's confectionery at Broadway and Eager Street. After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1933, he went to work at Dickman's Colonial House, his brother )) Charlie's restaurant at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues.
Later, he began visiting some of New York's leading French restaurants with the idea of duplicating them here. In 1961, he bought the old Riviera Delicatessen at Charles and Biddle, redecorated it with such touches as mirrored walls, and opened Danny's.
His wife, Beatrice, who married him in 1939, recalled last year that people were skeptical that such a restaurant could make it in a city where fine dining meant a dozen steamed crabs and a couple of drafts. "They said, 'A gourmet restaurant in Baltimore? Never happen!' " she said.
But it happened, at least partly because of Mr. Dickman's attention to detail and insistence on quality. He had Scotch salmon flown in from the British Isles, bought meat from the same distributors used by the fanciest New York restaurants and made early-morning trips to the old wholesale Fish Market at Market Place. "If it wasn't the best, I wouldn't buy it," he said in an interview last year.
In the mid-1980s, however, the heavy French food Danny's was famous for went out of favor and newer, trendy restaurants attracted younger diners just as many of Danny's patrons were dying off or watching their diets. Reviewers became critical.
In 1991, Mr. Dickman sold Danny's to his son and daughter-in-law, who became embroiled in a contested divorce that led to the closing of the restaurant that year.
Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Brothers funeral home, 6010 Reisterstown Road.
Mr. Dickman is survived by his wife, the former Beatrice Erdman of Baltimore; a son, Stuart Dickman of Hunt Valley; a daughter, Diane Cohen of Reisterstown; two sisters, Ruth Goodman and )) Esther Turdoski, both of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.
The family suggested donations to the Jewish National Fund.