Reservations: Not needed.
Price Range: From $2.85 for a hot corned beef sandwich to $3.95 for short ribs of beef.
Credit Cards: None accepted, but personal checks are welcome.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Special facilities: No booster or high chairs. Only one step up from street.
Every city deserves a few good delicatessens, but the number in Washington lags behind demand.
A few have not received the attention they deserve, and Manny's Baltimore Delicatessen and Restaurant on Bladensburg Road is one of them. For those who have to travel a long way to get there, the corned beef sandwiches alone are worth the trip.
The Baltimore Deli has a nondescript '50s-type atmosphere with a long counter and about 20 small booths. But there is a regular clientele, and some of the waitresses have been working for Manny for 20 years.
The deli goes back to 1936 when the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish. Deli owners went from Jewish to Greek and back to Jewish when Manny Leichtman bought the restaurant 22 years ago.
Since then, the neighborhood has changed from Jewish to black. On weekdays, many of its patrons come from work in downtown Washington or surrounding wholesale food industries. On Saturdays, it is a perfect place to eat hot corned beef sandwiches after visiting the National Arboretum.
As ardent delicatessen-watchers, we were anxious to visit the Baltimore Deli, and brought with us an English couple who was accustomed to frequenting the British equivalent of our delis; a New Yorker visiting for the weekend; and four children, ranging in age from 7 months to 5 years.
When we entered, Manny greeted us heartily, and one black waitress began showing off her expertise in Yiddish to my husband. Almost everyone seems to be on a first-name basis here with the owner and the waitresses. You could even yell to the counter for something else to drink and not feel embarassed. That's the kind of place Manny's is.
There were no high chairs or boosters but the children, except the baby, were able to fit easily into one booth. We adults shared two, which made the journey less comfortable for such a large group.
Our meal began with several of the homemade soups, some better than others.
The chicken with matzoh balls, which I had tasted once before, had seemed to have had better days. It was a bit fatty and was served lukewarm. The matzoh balls -- the light, airy variety which I prefer -- tasted a bit stale. The portion, as all portions at Manny's are, was large and the cost a resonable 85 cents.
The pea soup with floating frankfurters was thick and delicious -- a hit with the children. The third soup was a cold, sweet borscht with sour cream and a boiled potato. Very good at $1.25.
We tried a variety of main courses -- all extremely good except the chicken sandwich, which tasted like lunch meat. The hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches -- both piled high with meat -- were delicious at $2.65 each. Manny has been buying his corned beef from the same man in Baltimore for 20 years and cooks it himself. The beef is lean and it alone would make the trip to Bladensburg Road worthwhile.
The rye bread and rolls came from Ottenberg's. It is too bad they do not also come from Baltimore.
The tuna fish sandwich, $1.95, won favor with the 5-year-old. Grated carrot and celery were mixed with the fish. The club sandwich, with piles of crunchy bacon, turkey and swiss cheese, was delicious at $3.95. And the cold chicken liver platter, with rings of onion on top, was very good, even though it was not made with chicken fat. At $3.50, it came with sliced egg, tomato, lettuce and applesauce, all of which the 7-year-old devoured.
We did not try the famous combination sandwiches such as a $3.35 Monte special with hot corned beef, pastrami and swiss cheese; or a $3.50 Bobby's Special, with turkey, tongue, swiss cheese and cole slaw dressing.
For desserts, Manny's has a variety of pies -- all store bought -- which we did not try. They also have homemade rice and bread puddings at 75 cents each. Although the rice pudding is the more famous, with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, we preferred the smooth consistency of the bread pudding.
Our meal came to $27.50 without tip for five adults and four children. Not bad.
But our guests' reactions were mixed. The English couple thought Bloom's Deli of Whitechapel in London better, but the New Yorker -- a devotee of Zabar's -- thought Manny's corned beef a close second. Fine praise for any delicatessen.