You can tell as soon as you pull up to Danny's Little Taste of Texas that this is a place with character. It has a porch entry and unusual signage out front. Inside, it looks like someone's house got converted into a restaurant. When you walk in, you get a friendly greeting from the crew of attractive waitresses, all wearing cowboy hats. When your server arrives, you get warm, nicely seasoned chips and salsa. There are cowboy boots and hats hung on the walls, and large, well-worn booths, many with taped up seats, in three dining sections. There's no bar, but they serve beer and wine. Danny's is located just off I-84's exit 63, just minutes away from Hartford.
The menu is interesting and extremely lengthy and interesting, with daily specials and many options for the non-BBQ fan. There are pork ribs (spare ribs and babybacks), beef ribs, chicken, pulled pork and brisket. They have beef burgers, too, including a deep fried burger. The appetizer roster is endless, with a few kinds of wings, potato wedges and potato skins, pork nuggets, chili, corn fritters and corn dogs, quesadillas, chimichangas and tacos. There are several steaks, including rib-eye, T-bone, skirt and strip, plus chicken-fried steak and cheese steak sandwiches. Danny's also has several renditions of buffalo meat: buffalo chili, buffalo ribs, buffalo burgers, buffalo sandwiches and buffalo salad.
I visited Danny's Little Taste of Texas with my wife on a Saturday night in the summer of 2006. Nearly two years later, I returned to join one of the area's leading BBQ competition cooks for a weeknight dinner.
On the first visit, my wife and I shared the jalapeño poppers and the buffalo chili to start. The poppers were crisp outside, with mild cheddar and jalapeño pepper inside. These were nicely done and not too hot temperature-wise. I wish they had a better dipping sauce than sour cream. The buffalo chili was pretty good. It had a thick tomato base, no beans, lots of onions and cheese, and loaded with buffalo strips, strings and chunks. Some were tender, some were more well-done. The flavor was pretty good too. Not spicy, but flavored with a lot of spices.
The second visit was a stag chowdown, so we could afford to be a little more adventurous. On that particular night, adventurous meant starting with wings, beef chili and a deep fried buffalo burger. We ordered the wings to arrive half sauced, half unsauced so we could tasted the meat. The wings were definitely smoked, but a little on the small side and a little on the dry side. We both liked the flavor, but it wasn't enough to overcome the aforementioned problems. Beef chili was pretty good despite the inclusion of stewed tomatoes and beans this time. We were torn over how to work one of the buffalo items into our array of dishes and wound up taking our server's recommendation of the deep fried buffalo burger. The batter wasn't all that noticeable; the meat was tasty but a little dry. I'd chalk it up to the low fat content of the buffalo meat and order go with the beef burger if I tried it again. Despite all the armchair quarterbacking, we mostly enjoyed the appetizers, it's just that we settled for field goals (some a little wobbly) instead of touchdowns.
For entrees on the first visit, my wife continued the buffalo theme, getting a salad with shaved buffalo. She found the meat a little dry and tough, but it had a good flavor. I opted for the rib combo that has beef and pork ribs. This came with one beef rib and about a half dozen spare ribs, all unsauced. The beef rib was huge, with the meat slightly retracted from the ends of the bone. Surprisingly, the beef rib wasn't fatty like most. The meat had a good crust on it outside and pulled easily from the bone. Inside, the meat was tender and flavorful, with a pink smoke ring. I wish there was more than one beef rib.
The pork ribs were a little disappointing. When I lifted one of the bones, the meat separated from the bone and remained on the plate. These were so tender, they were too tender. The pale meat was dry in some spots and moist in others, mostly near the bone. There was a smoke ring, but I didn’t taste much smoky flavor, so maybe these were parboiled, then smoked.
On my way in on that first visit, I saw some babyback ribs at another table that looked very good, so I kept that on the back of my mind for future reference. So on the second visit, we split the $10 special that has a half rack of babybacks on a bed of fries. These ribs were a big improvement, with a fairly thick cut, a nice crust, a noticeable smoke ring and perfect tenderness, and thee sauce worked well with the meat. We also split a pulled meat dinner, asking to have half of it pulled pork and half pulled beef. The pork was mostly long strings with a little chewiness to them, lightly coated with a tangy sauce. The beef was a little more finely chopped, with a little less sauce and a reasonably pleasant natural beef flavor. The verdict: the chopped meats were pretty good, the babybacks were very good.
For sauces, Danny's Little Taste of Texas has a tangy bottled sauce on the table and a sweet sauce that's brought with your order. Both were average.
Cole slaw was crisp, creamy and good. Baked beans were pale and not very flavorful. Fries were your standard frozen variety. Potato salad had lots of egg mixed in, a plus if you like that and a side-killer if you don't.
The bottom line: A mixed bag with promise. There were some highlights (buffalo chili, beef rib, babybacks) and lowlights (pork ribs, wings, sides). But the atmosphere is relaxing, the service is superb and there's enough variety on the menu to warrant more visits. There's no real standout in the Hartford area for barbecue, but if I had to pick one joint to represent Connecticut's capital, I might just go with Danny's Little Taste of Texas.