“Manny’s laughs in the face of your so-called recession,” noted my friend as he received his scallop “sliders.” Sliders, of course, are by tradition the most inexpensive of all burgers, made with just a bit of meat and served on a small bun. They’re called sliders because they slide into you in a few bites. Needless to say, Manny’s, Minnesota’s most legendary steak house, does not admit to the existence of concepts like small or inexpensive, so these sliders were as big as my fists, cost $18.95, and made with giant, tender, diver-caught scallops and garnished with a salty sort of ragu made of shredded Kobe beef. They were actually really good, the salt of the beef a nice foil to the sweet scallop, though they were also classic Manny’s: absurdly large, over-the-top, braggadocio-indulgent, bludgeoning you to death with good ingredients.
What? You don’t want to be bludgeoned to death with good ingredients? Then you’re clearly not part of Manny’s core audience, which has been very happy to be hit about the head with steak, steak, and more steak since the place opened in 1988. And that core audience, which includes most of the power players in Minneapolis, has now had its clubhouse relocated from the dingy old rooms at the Hyatt to the sparkling new premises of the new W, crafted out of Minneapolis’s grandest art-deco building, the Foshay Tower.
How has Manny’s survived the move? Pretty well. What had not occurred to me when I first heard Manny’s was moving, however, was that they would now have to serve other day-parts, like breakfast and lunch. I could picture a Manny’s lunch—maybe half a steak—but the idea of a Manny’s breakfast mystified me. I pictured steaks topped with maple syrup and whipped cream, tiny little crunchy steaks floating in a bowl of milk, steaks being forced into a smoothie with açaí berries. But when I showed up for lunch, I realized that the real issue was this: As a new restaurant—and not the old Manny’s that we all know, love, and don’t necessarily even see anymore—Manny’s was going to have to prove it could cook.
But Manny’s can’t cook. Lunch visits found a caesar salad about as generic and hotel-nowhere as you can imagine. There was a “knife and fork” prime burger that needed that knife and fork because it was equal parts tough and dry, lobster sliders drowning in mayonnaise, and a pallid, innocuous tenderloin carpaccio with absolutely no beef character to it. The shrimp cocktail had shrimp that tasted wet and watery, as if they’d been soaking in ice water for hours. The Kobe-short-rib eggs Benedict was a disaster, with overly salty, lumpen meat (the same stuff that did so well seasoning the scallops) decorating undercooked, oil-soaked hash browns—all of it surmounted by a single well-poached egg and a too-thick Hollandaise sauce. A banana cake with crème anglaise was equally horrifying, for this undercooked, floury-tasting cake was served with a few raw banana slices which had each been given a crème-brûlée lid of caramelized sugar, which is not how bananas are caramelized. You could conceivably caramelize bananas that way if you were an accomplished cook and you were doing “caramelized bananas” in some sort of witty, avant-garde way. But you forfeit your right to tinker with caramelized bananas once you prove you can’t cook a cake. Rules of the playground. I don’t make them, I just enforce them. (Well, actually, I do make them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t everyone else’s problem.)
I did find a couple good things at lunch, namely the sirloin mini-burgers, which were simple three-inch patties of beef cooked until they were tender and then garnished with Manny’s legendary ultra-crisp shreds of fried onion. I also liked a cup of simple chili, served—winkingly and appealingly—with a bag of Fritos, and a lemon tart. The French fries were very nice, crisp, and enhanced by a scattering of fresh parsley and flakes of good Parmesan cheese. But it was a lot of work to find those good things.
Not that I didn’t get some pleasure out of lunch at Manny’s. It was fun to see the way the spirit of Manny’s old bar has been stylishly brought into modern times, with red tile and dark ebony wood. And it was nice to be able to sample Manny’s rye bread without fear that it was imprudent in the face of the coming steak onslaught. Still, lunch at Manny’s left me nervous. Had I overrated the place all these years?
To dinner, then. Outside, a ridiculous stretch-Hummer limousine blocked the approach to the valet parking, causing all the Porsches to stack up in strange, scattershot clumps. Inside, in the W’s gaudy, glistening, overstuffed-furniture-stuffed lounge, members of a bachelorette party were shrieking and spilling cosmos all over one another. We shouldered through the bachelorettes to Manny’s, and found it just as it ever was: crammed to bursting with Minneapolis power players and flashing with the glint of steak knives.
The signature oysters Rockefeller were just as they are supposed to be: salty and rich. The scallop sliders were a huge hit. A salad of burrata and tomato—burrata being that sort of mozzarella that’s so fresh that it’s stuffed with a butter-like fresh mozzarella curd—was, in Manny’s style, served with none too-ripe tomatoes in a portion that would feed six; I’d have liked it better without the drizzle of balsamic vinegar. And then: the steaks. I was shocked how much prices have gone up: The “bludgeon of beef,” Manny’s ridiculous, end-is-nigh, 50-ounce, bone-in rib eye, was only—only!—$59.95 last fall, but it now costs $94.95. I skipped that in favor of the regular bone-in rib eye, at $46.95, a comparative bargain, and it was purely delicious: winey, concentrated, tender and thunderous—just an ideal steak. My friend who had the sliders made the glorious mistake of ordering the double-cut prime rib. It wasn’t too much smaller than a Thanksgiving turkey, and so tender, so tasty, that halfway through he was pleading for mercy: “Someone, make me stop, before I injure myself…. No, wait, don’t.” His wife made the far more unfortunate decision of ordering the special, potato-crusted halibut. The fish was overcooked, the lid of potato-crust was grainy, and the whole thing was flavorless. So, Manny’s can’t cook. I had no idea. Well, I guess I had a little idea, but I had repressed it. Now it’s out in the open, because they moved to the W.
Now the big question: Do I care?
No, I can’t say I care much. So they can’t cook—or at least, they can’t cook fancy stuff. They cook steaks, prime rib, and lobster (and all the things that go with steaks, prime rib, and lobster) like nobody’s business. And there are already plenty of people in town doing lovely work with duck breasts, chickpea fries, and smoked paprika froth. I’ll go to them for the cooking. I’ll go to Manny’s for dinner when I want to spend exorbitant amounts of money on plush, gargantuan piles of beef and prestigious Napa Valley wines, and when I want to feel like I am in the absolute center of power in Minneapolis. The new main dining room at Manny’s is perfect for that. There’s a row of elevated booths along the back wall with near-perfect sightlines to every table on the main floor. In fact, there was so much rushing, greeting, and table-hopping going on between diners that the place seemed less like a restaurant and more like an all-city dinner party. A celebration of conspicuous consumption, a see-and-be-seen party that starts with leaving your Porsche in the pile by the door, and proceeds with everyone seeing you tap into a $50 steak. Now that I’ve seen Manny’s 2.0—now with windows!—I wonder about how much of the appeal of the old, hidden-away spot was that no one could see you splurge. Aren’t clandestine pleasures more acutely felt? Well, nothing’s clandestine anymore. And if you want to be beaten about the teeth and gums with some very fine beef, just drop your Porsche at the door.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.
Manny’s Steak House
W Minneapolis–The Foshay
821 Marquette Ave. S., Minneapolis
Breakfast is served from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Dinner hours are 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.