Whether you’re hankering for a simple, blue-collar burger or a patty with a bit more flair, you’ll find something to suit your taste in “Flipping for Florida Burgers,” VISIT FLORIDA’s occasional series exploring the state’s burger joints. Check out previous series installments on Johnny’s Fillin’ Station and Biff Burger. Hungry for some meat? Let’s eat!
It seems like Danny’s All American Diner has been around for decades.
When you consider the accumulation of customer signatures on the back porch, the dozens of critically acclaimed menu items and the fame and following it has earned, it’s hard to believe Danny’s only opened in 2005.
The slightly-off-the-beaten-path diner in Tampa is more than just another burger joint.
Many of the menu items have a baseball theme. Take the Roberto Clemente burger. This giant patty is served with sautéed onions and Swiss cheese on toasted Cuban bread — a wonderful combination that’s perfect for an area rich in Cuban heritage.
Owner Danny Doak won’t settle for the traditional Cuban sandwich that’s a staple in many Tampa-area restaurants. He fills his sandwiches with homemade mojo pork rather than the typical sliced pork.
The Danny’s building is only big enough to hold the cooking stations, food storage and a bathroom. All the seating is outside, which can seem daunting when the weather is warm. But industrial fans, trees and a covered seating area keep the picnic tables and lounge chairs cool even on an 85-degree afternoon. The outdoor seating can accommodate about 60 diners.
Crooner James Morgan belts out Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and James Taylor tunes during lunch hour on Friday, Saturday and alternating Sundays while diners devour hand-cut fries, milkshakes and deli sandwiches.
When Doak and wife Gayle acquired the little building off Interstate 75, he knew he wanted to channel the vibe of a bygone era.
“I wanted a neighborhood place like you grew up with,” said Doak, who was one of six kids and learned to cook from his mother. “We had always talked about a diner.”
The burgers are made with a mix of ground chuck that’s ground twice. The patties are served on Kaiser rolls delivered from a local bakery each morning.
The menu has evolved to include deli sandwiches and salads. The chili is also a popular choice,for good reason. Doak adds a pound of butter to each 5-gallon bucket of chili.
“It gives it a richer flavor,” Doak said.
But the piece de resistance is a more recent addition to the menu.
The Triple D Triple Play — a Danny Burger with Swiss cheese, American cheese, a quarter pound of pastrami, a quarter pound of mojo pork and onion rings on grilled sourdough bread, topped with jalapeños, mustard and tomatoes — was invented when Food Network star Guy Fieri brought his “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” TV show to Danny’s in 2011.
Doak was nervous when Fieri suggested it and then started cooking it live on TV, but then he tasted the massive meaty concoction.
“Damn, this thing is good,” Doak said when he tried it.
Fieri’s visit to the tiny diner was a turning point. People have traveled there from around the globe as a result, causing the Doaks to hire 10 more staff members.
You can see the wide appeal of the diner when you step out back. The Doaks started with a push-pin map for visitors to mark where they came from but soon outgrew it. Now, the entire exterior wall of the former house is covered with the Sharpie signatures of its guests.
Gayle Doak roams around the picnic tables, striking up conversations. She loves talking to the guests, and the personal touch shows in the regulars who keep coming back.
“More than anything, people want to feel comfortable when they go out to eat,” Danny Doak said.
Orders are placed at an outdoor window, where guests can reach into a big cooler and choose from 30 specialty beverages such as RC Cola, Cheerwine and Mexican Coke.
“If you want a good, greasy, all-American burger, it’s the place to come, for sure,” said Jason Mangum, who lives in Tampa and was trying the Babe Ruth burger (bacon, mushrooms, Swiss cheese) one Sunday. “The French fries are good, too.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Danny’s All-American Diner & Dairy Bar
WHERE: 4406 N. Falkenburg Road, Tampa
CONTACT: Visit dannysallamericandiner.com or call 813-740-0606