Some things are much better than the sum of their parts. Consider mustard. There is a good reason why people don’t often eat straight mustard seed. However, mix it with humble ingredients such as vinegar, salt and turmeric, and you have the world’s favorite condiment. Hagar’s Manhattan Deli on Ingersoll carries a similar story. Its breads do not compare well with those of South Union or La Mie. Its meats are not on a level with those of Maccabee or B&B. Its cheeses would not be allowed behind the counter of The Cheese Shop. Yet within the Roosevelt High School district, it’s easier to find someone who eats his or her sandwiches daily than anyone who never hankers for one.
My mother, who ate their sandwiches several times a week, called them “an honest sandwich for an honest price.” She meant that they were bargains. Indeed. Last week, a friend from New York City asked me to photograph Manhattan Deli’s menu board with a current, dated newspaper. Her point was that her friends in Manhattan would think the photo was taken 30 or more years ago when they saw prices like $4.25 for a ham or turkey sandwich, $1.25 for a salad or $2.59 for a cup of chili. (The last time I ate at Carnegie Deli in New York, simple sandwiches cost $20, and specialty sandwiches were $30.) These are not skimpy sandwiches either. I measured the meat and cheese in my corned beef sandwich last week at an inch-and-a-quarter.
The Hagar family recently opened a second store, Manhattan Grill, in the former Limey’s Pub venue in Normandy Plaza. Two rooms offer TVs from every conceivable sight line, video games, slot machines, a bar and tables for 80 or so. Specialty “martinis,” a short wine list and several draft beers were served, lending the place a sports bar ambiance more than that of a deli.
Though Manhattan Deli originals are served here, do not expect to find a $4.25 sandwich. The “Vito,” (Italian beef, provolone and peppers) costs $5.45 on Ingersoll and as little as $4 on Mondays. In West Des Moines, it goes for $8.95 and includes fries or chips, whether you want them or not. Such bundling is as popular as it is irritating these days.
In addition to fries, the new store adds wraps, quesadillas, wings, poppers, chicken tenders, fried mushrooms, burgers, sausage sandwiches and chef’s salads to its menu. My Manhattan burger ($7.50) included bacon, cheese, sautéed onions, pickles and sauce. There was no discount for excluding any of those ingredients. The quarter-pound burger patty reminded me of Mom’s “honest” comment. It was larger than what passes for a quarter-pound elsewhere. It was also perfectly seared and an excellent burger though it’s served on a Vienna loaf rather than a proper bun. Thick cut, skin-on fries were still hot from the fryer and delightfully crisp. A half-pound sausage sandwich ($9.25) was also seared perfectly.
Bottom line — This is a bar with bar food, not a fabulous bargain deli like its older sister.
Executive brass from Cameron’s coffee came to town last week to celebrate hitting the Top 10 among coffee sellers in Des Moines. (They are No. 2 in the Twin Cities.) They also came to promote their packaging techniques, claiming that their foil bags are designed to remove far more air than any other company. Their K cups (now more than a third of the entire coffee market) particularly converted me. I had never liked single-cup coffee makers because of the horrible smell emitted by the burnt polyethylene pouches they employed. Cameron’s packages its K cups in a natural, drip container that also allows water to run over all the coffee rather than tunneling through the middle. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Hagar’s Manhattan Grill
1970 Grand Ave., Suite 29
West Des Moines • 225-2002
Sunday – Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.