Over the past 20 years, the steakhouse that was once the epitome of hearty American dining has been gored by a series of dietary and culinary trends. Beef was suddenly too heavy, too caloric, too unimaginative, too old-fashioned. So the neighborhood chop house gradually was either relegated to the family quick-char chains;,or tacked on price tags so high that they acquired a reverse chic and a sort of J.P. Morgan bluntness (or carried Japanese or Argentine labels).
But for those who harbor a secret nostalgia for the good old days, when a steak was neither small nor tenderized into mush -- nor worth your mortgage -- Danker's is still slabbing them off with a maximum of meat (up to a pound) and a minimum of la-di-da.
Danker's is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and while the Pennsylvania Avenue area renovation has poked the noses of neighboring hotels into the air, Danker's still has the dark wood tables and bent-back chairs of the old days.
Steaks are not the only thing on the menu -- there are soups and sandwiches and chef's and spinach salads -- but they're the real draw. (As if they expect you to skip over the intermediary categories, Danker's menu is set up so that the desserts follow the appetizers, leaving the lighter dishes in a sort of limbo.)
If you're really hungry, you could dabble in the hors d'oeuvres, the most interesting being the Danker's Flankers (thin-sliced flank steak minisandwiches); and the pizza bread, which is tomato sauce and mozzarella melted on French bread. It's good, but since the bread here is delicious, crunchy at the crust and chewy inside, served hot in loaves, you might as well indulge in it straight.
The traditional salad (largish but blanketed with dressing) and baked or fried potatoes come with the steaks, which are served on those hot metal grills slipped into wooden holders.
And for once, real steak lovers will have no beef with the selection. Besides the sirloins, filet mignons and prime ribs which are the Washington standards, Danker's offers real T-bone's and Delmonicos, once the connoisseur's choices and now almost obsolete.
Both the sirloin and filet mignon may be ordered in two sizes, regular and "blue ribbon," described as a pound and looking it. The meat is quite good, especially the filet, which has more presence and flavor than the over-pounded and poor-spirited disks many restaurants deal. The steaks are charred but not carbonized, but they could stand a little more careful trimming; some are still banded in fat and gristle.
Steaks come pretty much as ordered: the kitchen recognizes "medium rare" as pink, but assumes a "very rare" diner doesn't know his own mind. London broil (sliced flank here) comes drenched in gravy, though the filet is more gracefully topped with real sauteed mushrooms. Danker's also makes its own version of what has become generically known as "Palm steak" after the more expensive uptown joint: sliced strip with sauteed onions and peppers.
Remember, this is a family spot: The clothes policy is loose and so is the wine list. The zinfandel wasn't offered for inspection or for tasting, and it wasn't the one ordered, but it was okay anyway. As for the desserts, I don't know anyone who's made it that far.