Danny: A man for all seasons

Forum Extra

November 12, 1993

I READ of the recent death of Danny Dickman, the owner of Danny's restaurant on Charles Street.

The Evening Sun obituary was a glowing tribute to the restaurant, and therefore to Danny himself, but I feel compelled to tell you a little more about the man who was Danny Dickman.

I worked for Danny on two occasions in the late '70s and 1980. Because I could cook, Danny hired me despite my reputation as an unreliable and troubled young man, and I took a position at the head of his line producing the best food I have seen: authentic lobster Thermidor, Belgian Dover sole, meuniere.

In the middle of all of the bustle of Danny's kitchen, the most important cog was the man himself: running full speed up the basement stairs, dressed in a tuxedo, carrying a 60-pound leg of veal and then pushing up his cuffs and boning it out, tossing me the fillets to slice into escallopes to saute. He was over 60 then, a karate student, eating macrobiotic food ("I have to stay fit to protect Beatrice," he'd say) and marshaling his employees with wit and a steel hand.

Quite a force it was, too. Before multi-culturalism was a byword, Danny employed people from all ethnic groups all at once.

While many restaurants hired only those whom the management could "relate to," Danny fearlessly hired any man or woman who could prove valuable. He chose to hire many untested people as well, and he raised some to his level of expertise as a restaurateur.

At one time his staff included an elegant young woman trained in restaurant ships in the Stockholm archipelago and a Highlandtown roughneck whom Danny had trained up into a stylish gentleman (although a little frayed at the cuffs). He employed "Little Billy," a sleepy-eyed miscreant whose comedy of errors before he was fired featured the exploding of a flambeed duck onto the lap of a guest of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The things that Danny was not were as important as the things he was. He was not a bigot or a boozer or a gambler or an abuser. His politics were private, but his observations on politics were informed (fitting the nature of his clientele). He had a wonderful sense of humor that was quite sly and often sailed over the heads of many of his customers and employees.

He was a tough guy when he had to be. One day a burly young employee flew into the kitchen cursing Miss Beatrice for some imagined insult. "I'm gonna go out there and set her straight!" he declared. Danny stopped him with a heavy hand on the shoulder.

When the fellow turned and threw a punch at Danny's face, Danny parried the blow and flattened the man with a single punch. When he came to, Danny escorted him into the alley, where they debated loudly for a few minutes. Danny allowed him to return to work the following day, but for the rest of that day he stayed close to Beatrice in case the man caused more trouble.

Danny never told Bea about the altercation. He loved life, the people and the business, but he loved her most of all.

David B. Ebert

The writer lives in South Sutton, N.H.

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