Manny's Deli and Cafeteria

January 31 2009 - 11:09 AM

Groupon recently featured Manny's Deli, an old-school Chicago deli and cafeteria established in 1942, and frequented by none other than (you guessed it) Barack Obama. I've been meaning to check out this place for months, so armed with a $15 gift certificate, I stopped by to investigate Chicago's answer at a New York-style deli.

Having navigated the serpentine lines and unruly crowds at Katz's Deli, I was pleased to see that ordering at Manny's was considerably less stressful. I snagged a tray and began eyeing the array of options before me. The woman ahead of me was also shifting indecisively, so the deli man behind the counter began to helpfully list some suggestions: "We got sandwiches, corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, soup, salads, fried fish, macaroni, beef stew, short ribs, meat loaf, chopped liver, egg salad, fruit salad…ok, that's it." Well, that certainly helped narrow it down! I also noticed a number of traditional Jewish dishes, including knishes and kasha varnishka, and promptly revised my opinion of Manny's up a few notches.

After a little more pondering, I opted for a bowl of matzo ball soup and a corned beef sandwich on rye. As I waited for my sandwich (the slicer was humming away to create a stack of corned beef), the deli  man began amiably chatting with me. Still biking in this weather, eh? Maybe your blood moves faster than mine! A thickly settled pile of corned beef was now obscuring any signs of bread on my sandwich. With a flick of the wrist, the deli man flipped a plate and tossed the sandwich on top. With another swift motion, he brought a knife crashing down on a large pickle, neatly slicing it in two. Potato pancake? I nodded yes.

Manny's dining room is simple and functional, but by no means austere. With its array of vintage news clippings, Chicago memorabilia and monochrome photographs, it retains all the charm and zeitgeist of its storied past. And naturally, the most recent bits of history in the making are prominently on display; photographs of Obama's visits to Manny's are visible throughout the deli. On the counter, a flyer suggests that you order the "President's Special," a corned beef sandwich and cherry pie. Behind me, an autographed photo of Mayor Daley was on the wall, next to a drool-inspiring display of rugulach, breads and other cookies.

I began digging into my food, a warm respite from the wind outside. The matzo ball soup was a bit too salty for my taste, but paired with the accompanying bread and fist-sized matzo ball, it was perfect. My corned beef sandwich was a gluttonous delight, a gargantuan mound of shaved corned beef, tender and moist, piled 3 inches high. And my potato latke was a thick puck of carbohydrate goodness, fried to a golden shell, with a bone-sticking potato and onion filling. In no time at all, I inhaled my food and leaned back with satisfaction. I am pretty sure that the woman at the counter was shocked to see that I'd actually finished my food. But as they say on the website, "At Manny's you don't diet. You don't snack. You don't nosh. You come to
this landmark lunchroom to pile your tray high and eat like there's no
tomorrow."

With that, I highly recommend Manny's Deli as the ultimate Valentine's Day restaurant. Just kidding, Manny's isn't taking reservations, so you should go to White Castle instead. All right, unless your date has a very strong sense of humor, or you wish to intentionally underwhelm them, I would suggest not going to either of these places. However, Manny's is perfect for the other 364.25 days of the year, so swing by if you want to try a classic deli-cafeteria experience, topped with a sprinkle of Chicago kitsch.

Manny's Deli
1141 S. Jefferson (Jefferson & Roosevelt)
(312) 939-2855
Mon-Sat, 5 am-8 pm

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