If you didn’t know what was there, it would be hard to guess what lies inside the tiny pale-yellow building just off the corner of North Crestline Street and Diamond Avenue, with its curved metal sign above the doorway bearing the words “Donny’s Place.” A restaurant offering a fine-dining experience in the Hillyard neighborhood — which has long held the reputation of one of Spokane’s rougher areas — probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Inside is a warm and intimate — yet slightly cramped — dining room that presents itself like an Old World Italian eatery. Warm, olive-green walls are decorated with shiny copper pots, and crisp white linens cover the eight or so tables of varying sizes, all set with a full service of silver and finished with a single-stem flower vase and glowing red candleholder. Diners seated at a corner booth crammed in next to an upright piano can see everything, from the front door and the host stand — the traffic rushes up and down Crestline just beyond curtained windows — and the entrance to the kitchen, the dish room and the restroom.
Opening this past April, it’s taken time for Donny’s Place to gain recognition in the local dining scene, if only partly because of its unusual location and reliance on word-of-mouth recommendations. Currently it’s open four days a week, only for dinner. If there aren’t any customers, it’s not unusual for 24-year-old Donny Hart, a first-time restaurant owner, to close up shop for the night. Reservations are recommended for that reason alone, as well as the eatery’s limited capacity.
While Donny greets customers and waits tables, his father Dan prepares food in the kitchen and Donny’s younger brother Danny washes dishes in the back. Without knowing who was who, it would be easy to mistake Dan, a tall, robust man with a friendly Santa-esque beard, as the owner/chef. He pops in and out of the kitchen to converse with patrons while Donny stands at the front door and nervously glances over to make sure guests’ water glasses are still full.
On first glance, the Italian-fare menu seems stripped-down and basic, but that’s for a reason, Dan explains, adding that he is open to taking customer requests for meals if it’s something he has the ingredients to prepare. On a warm August night, the pizza oven isn’t in use because it would heat up the building too much, so guests are left to choose from either pasta or meat-based dishes (all entrées are a flat $15). At first it may seem like Donny’s Place is a bit disorganized and spur-of-the-moment, but don’t let that fool you. The portions are huge — even splitting an entrée is more than adequate. Even though it’s just Dan working back in the kitchen, the food comes out quickly and is savory, fresh and satisfying, as well as affordable.
Donny’s Place • 2103 E. Diamond Ave. • Open Wed-Sat from 5-11 pm • 979-2741 • facebook.com/DonnysPlaceSpokane