Atmosphere: A simple stopover for those who want to try a modest Family Outdoors. Price range: From a small pizza for $1.75 to sorts of things under $4.50. Hours: Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.: Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Special facilities: Accesible by wheelchair. Seating for small children can be arranged. Street parking not difficult. Reservation: No. Credit Cards: AmericanExpress, Visa.
Children don't notice or don't care, but most grownups know deep down that the romance of eating at a sidewalk restaurant in our town is somewhat mitigated. Either you're inhaling gusts from a fleet of buses, flinching from persistent bees, baking to a crisp or wondering if the service is any better inside.
Ah, but then there are those rare times when conditions are perfect. even if the spot is not breathtakingly unusual. So it was for three of us on a recent sunny Sunday evening along Wisconsin Avenue with a gentle breeze, minimal traffic - and Manny's.
For those whose pizza-popping days go back a bit, Manny's sits where the great Maggi's used to dwell - though we'll refrain from and nostalgia-jaded comparisons.
After all, a pizza place named Manny's that's been taken over by Persians and serce a Monte Cristo sandwich and fish and chips has got to speak for itself. (At that, it may just get a new name in the near future, we were told).
Under the high canopy near the street-side railing, we pulled up to a sizable if slightly rickety table. Although it wasn't yet 7 p.m., the 14 outdoor tables were filling up fast, including all of those with the red and white tablecloths.
Never mind, for here came our waitress, whom we'll call Alice, since that's what she later wrote on the top of the check. To gain a few moments for covert note-taking off the menu, we ordered a Coke and two little draft mugs of beer.
Our 9-year-old daughter, noticeably buoyed by the absence of her older brother, sent forth the news that she was in the mood for a small pizza, which listed at $1.75 plain (medium was $3.25, the large $4.25), and which can be decorated at 35 cents a crack with the usual run of topping or, as it turned out in this instance, with extra cheese.
My wife, meanwhile, was consulting with Alice about the soup of the day, which could be ordered by the cup at 60 cents, the bowl at 80 cents or - here we go - as half of the "soup and salad bar" combination for $2.25, which sounded just fine. Minestrone, said Alice; sure, said my wife.
In deference to an expansive girth that unfortunately has been hinding the napking in my lap lately, I concluded that an 8-ounce sirloin at $3.25 would be the prudent course.
That order also entitles one to root around the salad bar, an entitlement that I transferred to our daughter. The bar was inside, and my two companions departed to check on the spread as well as the interior atmosphere.
Neither knocked them over. The salad bar was about the size of a typewriters table, with some radishes, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, some lazy-looking lettuce, beets drowned in their juices, a bowl that at some point must have contained bacon bits and a few hard rolls that weren't meant to be.
The principal work of art, if you're interested, was a framed, early Woolworth school gold-on-velvet abstract.
And now back to our table, where the minestrone is arriving, looking very unvinestrone-like. That's because it is clam chowder. "They're always changing it on me," chirps Alice. But wait, it turns out to be excellent, my wife reports, a concoction that is zesty and probably better than any minestrone that might have materialized.
The extra-cheesy pizza (all of which is "fresh rolled," according to a big sign in the window), was just right, said our daughter, who engineered the disappearance of 75 percent of her portion. She wrapped the fourth slice in a napkin to preseant later to her brother, who normally claims to get nothing from her except grief.
My steak was lean (whew!) and accompanied by seven wafer-thin slices of greaseless potato that surely wouldn't upset my agonizing effort at caloric restraint. Be that as it may, they're gone now.
A pause here for those of you who might prefer something else. Some examples are spagehetti with meat sauce, at $2.75, or with meatball or sausage, at $2.95; the fish (perch) and chips, at $2.95; ham steak platter, at $3.25; and mannicotti, at $3.25.
The sandwich selection looked noteworthy, too. The Monte Cristo, in case you're still curious, is ham and turkey and Swiss cheese deep-fried, at $2.25; the "Italian Stallion" is a sub with sausage, meatballs, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and a house sauce for $2.35. There's a sirloinburger, too, served with trimmings on an English muffin, for $1.95.
Pastry is the headline dessert item at $1, but we can't fill you in on it because we were already quite filled in, except for a signature on the creditcard slip - for a gentle total of $9.70 plus tip. That, no matter what the new management may wind up calling this place, is what we call a value.