Whenever I see an item on a menu I’ve never had before, I order it.
On a visit to Danny’s in Melrose Park, I ordered the special of the day: neck bones. They were nothing like I imagined they would be. I pictured them as mostly gnarly hunks that one gnaws to extract a little meaty flavor. Boy, was I wrong. These were steaming morsels of dense yet tender meat, with rich pork taste and much moisture provided by inherent fattiness and lots of classic Italian-American red sauce.
Danny’s has been featured on “Check, Please!” but long before this popular neighborhood restaurant was favored by the attentions of Alpana Singh, it was enjoyed by locals who appreciate home-style Italian cooking (and neck bones are in that category: you won’t find them on the menus of most Italian restaurants in Chicagoland).
My barber, Emil Messina of the Oak Park Arms, is a fellow Italian-American and he told me that his wife frequently uses neck bones for sauce. “I can always tell if she didn’t use neck bones for the gravy,” Emil explained to me, “ so I ask her, ‘Did you put neck bones in here,’ and if she says “I didn’t have any,” I say ‘Why the heck didn’t you tell me? I would have picked some up!’”
Neck bones provide the sauce with both flavor and body. Given the relatively high collagen in animal joints, the bones of the neck – much like the bones of the feet and back – help thicken the sauce and provide texture and mouthfeel.
Emil tells me that at holiday dinners at his house, his grandchildren always eat the neck bones first – “They love ‘em,” he said, adding “there’s a lot more meat on them than you might think.”
There’s something satisfyingly primal about hunkering down over big, flavorful animal bones. There are other worthy items on Danny’s menu – like the fried meatball sandwich and spare ribs with greens – but for me, the best bites are to be found in a big platter of neck bones covered in red sauce.
Danny’s Café & Deli
15th Ave and Division
Melrose Park, IL