E. Jason Wambsgans/Tribune
February 25, 2013
Who eats: Business folks, politicians, neighbors.
Why eat: Heaping mounds of Jewish deli food.
Ambience: Nothing fancy here ¿ Formica tables, vinyl padded chairs, fluorescent lighting and cafeteria floor tiles. But you don't go to Manny's for comfort. You go for comfort food, and perhaps the occasional sighting of an old school Chicago pol. There's even a corner spot identified as the "David Axelrod" table. Press clippings and awards adorn the walls, reminding diners that Manny's has been around long enough to warrant legitimate street cred.
Dress code: The short answer is none, but you'll feel comfortable wearing a business suit or a T-shirt and jeans.
Noise factor: It's a big, open space that tends to get crowded at lunchtime, so when it's packed the rumble of others' conversations is ever-present, but not overwhelming.
Overheard: "I was asking him all about the business. He said it was slow for most of last year, but it's better now."
Service: Manny's is all cafeteria, meaning you grab a tray and slide it down the line, ordering as you go. Servers ladle out main courses or slice sandwiches to order. Sides, drinks and desserts are self-serve. The folks behind the counter play the part, serving food with a smile that belies their gruffness.
Cellphone reception/Wi-Fi: Full cell.
Reservations: None needed, but at noon the line can grow long. There's plenty of seating.
Reliable options: The menu is huge and rotates according to the day of the week, but it's hard to go to Manny's and not try a corned beef or pastrami sandwich ($11.95 each, add a potato pancake for $1). Both are juicy and piled high on rye bread, with just the right amount of sloppiness. Every table has a jar of horseradish sauce, which adds spice without overpowering. The sandwiches are massive and well worth the drive or a cab ride from the Loop. The potato pancake is thick and somewhat chewy, fried on the outside and doughy on the inside, a perfect complement to the sandwich (though my dad, a potato pancake connoisseur, complains they're too thick and too chewy, I disagree). The matzo ball soup, ($3.75 for a bowl) is comfort classic, a giant matzo ball swimming in a sea of chicken stock. If you're feeling more adventurous, try a daily special such as the oxtail stew ($14.95), a mound of stewed potatoes, carrots and succulent, fall-off-the-bone meat that is so tender you can cut it with a spoon. The beet salad ($1.95) is refreshing and earthy, but there's only so much you can do with a beet. The blueberry pie ($3.75) oozes with tart, gooey blueberries, and the caramel cake ($4.50) is moist and sweet. Everything, and I mean everything, comes in oversized portions, so bring an appetite.
Expect to pay: $15-$20 per person.
Contacts: 312-939-2855; mannysdeli.com
-- Jon Yates