Rising high before me was this rather remarkable dish in pink, lots of pink. Around me were swirling aromas of sizzling fat and bubbling broth, voracious appetites for lunch and power, the stench of toil and industry. This is where Chicago’s politicians go to be seen with their adoring public, where dealmaking mingles with orders for matzoball soup, and where the local workforce goes for what is possibly one of the densest meals to test the structural integrity of a plate. Welcome to Manny’s Deli, where the knish is dense and chewy, the pastrami on rye a quivering, towering mass and the salad obviously an afterthought.
Back to the dish. There it was, possibly the largest serving of sliced meat I had encountered in years. And it was strangely attractive, like a monster truck with cartoonishly big wheels, or a Big Gulp – a danger not to be indulged in everyday, but something that one might want to take on as a challenge. There were nibbly, chewy bits and translucent, succulent fatty parts. Some edges brown and crispy, rather like a handsome tan. It was a smorgasbord of pink excess, and it dared me to dive in. An hour later, I was one with the salty, greasy, densely flavorful pink monster. Washed down with a cup of generic coffee, it was the most memorable lunch I’ve had in years.
Manny’s : the self proclaimed best deli in Chicago. Is it better than Katz’s in NYC, or the Second Ave Deli? Or Langer’s in LA? Who knows, and how could one know? It is physically impossible for this author to consume 4 giant stacks of quivering beef in one sitting for a blind test – a feat likely impossible even for the Frank Brunis and the Jonathan Golds of the world. Besides, state of mind has a lot to do with taste, as does the overall experience of the meal – one’s companions at the table, the spectacle of one’s immediate surroundings, the color of the sky outside, the pace of traffic, the morning espresso. I’d suggest putting all aside, and taking a walk over to Manny’s – well worth a visit.
Summertime in Chicago, 2011.