I am embarrassed to admit that I made my first trip ever to Manny's today. The trip was forced more by various cultural pressures (chowhound hype surrounding Manny's, local media raves, national reputation, etc) than by need for a good corned beef sandwich. I am an avid consumer of corned beef and was raised on the corned beef of Kauffman's Deli on Dempster St. in Skokie--and frequent that deli to this day. Kauffman's corned beef pairs a rich fatty flavor with a pervasive garlicky bite that always yields an excellent sandwich. I have sampled the corned beef offerings from many Chicago delis, and none, to my mind, compare to Kauffman's....And this includes Manny's corned beef, which, while it is very good, falls tangibly short of Kauffman's standard. For lunch today I had Manny's corned beef on rye, matzo ball soup, and two potato pancakes. The sandwich was pleasing, having a good warm moistness and about the right amount of fat. But it lacked the garlic punch that sets Kauffman's apart. Compared to Kauffman's corned beef, Manny's flavor is a little thin. Very good, but not great.
What was great at Manny's, though, was the matzo soup and the potato pancake. The potato pancake was cooked perfectly--crispy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside. The pancake had a savory quality that made me crave more as soon as I finished it. The matzo ball soup was also excellent--having both a hefty substantiality and a definitive lightness that was a winning combination. The broth was also very tasty. Both the soup and the pancake were several levels above what Kauffman's produces. I will definitely return to Manny's, but probably for roast beef or beef stew (and potato pancakes!) rather than corned beef.
As you know, Manny's Coffe Shop and Deli is located at 1141 S. Jefferson in Chicago, and Kauffman's is at 4905 Dempster St. in Skokie.