A good man is hard to find. So is a good corned beef sandwich. For some reason, there aren’t many old-school Jewish delis anymore. Maybe the new generation isn’t interested in taking over these family-run businesses. Maybe Jews are gravitating toward other types of cuisine. Or maybe delis’ high-calorie menu items are simply out of vogue.
But if you’re like me and you like that kind of food – hot kreplach soup, meat-filled kishkes smothered in gravy, peppery pastrami sandwiches with a potato pancake and a slice of pickle on the side – then you need to visit Mannys Coffee Shop & Deli, in Chicago’s South Loop area. It’s the real deal.
Barack Obama knows that, because he’s a regular customer (even with a posse of Secret Service and staff). His order is usually a corned beef sandwich, a potato pancake, and a slice of cherry pie. There’s an autographed photo of him eating just that.
Manny’s has been around since 1942, and at its current location since the 1960s. It has an unimpressive exterior and a no-frills interior, with cafeteria-styled food. After you order from their massive menu, you carry your tray to a large, open dining area where there are paper napkin dispensers on the tables and maroon vinyl-covered metal chairs.
The dining room walls are lined with framed newspaper and magazine stories about the place. Some are old, yellowing newspaper clips from the 1970s, and some are new, colorful, glossy magazines.
The menu is so massive, it’s almost impossible to decide what to order. For a safe bet, or if you’re not familiar with these foods, stick to the warm brisket or corned beef sandwich on rye, with a crispy potato pancake ($13.95). The meat on the sandwich is piled so high, it’s enough food for two people.
My brother-in-law, a Boston native who now lives in Phoenix, said he wants to move to Chicago just to be near Manny’s. It’s now on his must-stop-there list whenever he’s in Chicago.
And I can understand why.