I was at the South Loop Binny’s a few weeks ago for a mini Sam Adams brewing contest. The area in which they were holding the event is in this little bar/sitting area against a bank of windows overlooking Jefferson Street. As I sipped my Samuel Adams Imperial Stout out of a little plastic taster cup, I looked out of the window at the beautiful Chicago skyline. I became distracted quickly, however, when I noticed all the people zipping in and out of a place called Manny’s Cafeteria and Deli. “What could this place be all about?” I asked myself. It was weird for any Loop business to be really busy on a weekend. I left without thinking about it again.
A week later, my father sent me an e-mail saying there was an interesting restaurant in the South Loop that he was surprised I never visited during my stint at the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC was just a few blocks away and though I often ate out, my usual stomping grounds were the restaurants of Greek Town. “Manny’s Deli,” my father wrote. “Great corned beef.”
So, I took a trip back to Jefferson Street in the South Loop. This time, it was not the beer enticing me to make the trek from the ‘burbs, but this call was just as strong. The promise of corned beef and potato pancakes beckoned me forth, and it met and exceeded all my expectations.
If you’re going for lunch during the week, get ready to stand in line. All the local businessmen and women in the Loop that know anything about food like to frequent this place. The line leads you to an area where you can pick up your utensils and trays; then it’s a slow-paced shuffle along the counter where, like a high school cafeteria, you can pick and choose your favorite hot and cold dishes. These aren’t meals for the faint of heart or stomach. Hot meals such as beef brisket, meatloaf and liver and onions are served daily. There is also an extensive list of daily hot-dish and soup specials. I picked up a corned beef sandwich on rye, while my companion went with corned beef on an “everything” bagel. Each corned beef sandwich was accompanied by a huge potato pancake and dill pickle. The trio fit together so happily on the plate that it was almost a shame to eat them. After the main course options on the counter, a series of side dishes, desserts and drinks are available for your culinary pleasure. I went for a slice of the blueberry pie and my friend decided on a very tasty-looking button mushroom salad.
At the end of the queue, a very polite woman tabulates your bill and hands it to you. Put your money away, because you pay when you leave. Once I sat down, the people-watching began. Did I mention the serving sizes? Huge! It was very entertaining watching everyone try to balance their massive, high-piled trays and breathe a sigh of relief when they reached their final destinations. Locals and tourists of all ages come in to eat their fill of matzo ball soup and hot sandwiches. Come hungry, because it would be a sin not to.
Located at 1141 S. Jefferson Street, Manny’s is a great place to experience Jewish cooking at its best.