I wish I’d tried out Cafe Manhattan much sooner

My wife and I tried someplace different for dinner tonight. Cafe Manhattan has been near the intersection of Lindbergh and Tesson Ferry since 1989–longer than I’ve been driving. And since it’s just a couple of miles away from where I went to high school, where I live, and where I worked for seven years, I’ve driven past it a lot.

Big mistake. But it’s going to be in heavy rotation from now on.In 2006, Cafe Manhattan got the RFT award for best milkshake in St. Louis. So I had to try it. It’s done up the old fashioned way, and you get the metal cup, and I’ll admit it’s awfully good. I’ll put it ahead of local favorite Oberweis, but it’s not quite up to par with Crown Candy Kitchen. Of course for me it’s also a much shorter drive.

The other reviews suggested to me that Cafe Manhattan is a greasy spoon, but that’s not really a fair label. Not everything is deep-fried or grill-fried, and there’s a very surprisingly large number of vegetarian dishes on the menu. I wouldn’t call it a health food place, but if you want a place to eat and there are vegetarians in your party, this place is a winner.

The menu claims the hamburger is the best in St. Louis, so of course I had to take up that challenge. It was very good, but I think the burgers at Concord Grill, a couple of blocks away, are better. Let it be known, however, that regardless of Citysearch’s claim that Hardee’s makes the best burger in St. Louis, that Cafe Manhattan’s burger is much better.

My wife had something called a Liberty Melt, which was a bunch of veggies on whole wheat bread with some type of Wisconsin cheese on it. Not my thing, but she loved it. She’s a vegetarian now, which can make going out a little difficult sometimes, but she changed her mind about four times about what to get before settling on this one. She wasn’t disappointed.

The service was excellent. The place was packed, and yet everything arrived quickly. The meal probably arrived 10 minutes after we placed our order–faster than some fast-food restaurants. The staff was attentive and courteous and kept our glasses full.

And I almost forgot the atmosphere. The building it’s in used to be a Naugel’s–one of many local Mexican fast-food chains that have come and gone–but they’ve done a lot with it. The interior has classic diner floor tile and tables, and there’s a jukebox in the corner. But along the ceiling there’s a shelf that runs the perimeter of the dining room stuffed full of Americana–old soda bottles, signs, toys, and other neat things. Lots of casual dining chains try for that look, but Cafe Manhattan does it better.

As far as having the best milkshake, best burger, best pizza, or anything else, if you’re willing to look, you’ll find one or two places that are a little bit better at each of those things. But I doubt you’ll find anyplace that does all of it better.

And while the place was busy, this was a Saturday night. Had we gone to O’Charley’s or Friday’s or Applebee’s at that time, we would have had to wait. We didn’t have to wait and we got better food.

Now I know what I was missing when I drove past those hundreds–if not thousands–of times. We’ll be back soon.

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2 thoughts on “I wish I’d tried out Cafe Manhattan much sooner

  • April 8, 2007 at 1:55 am

    Have to wonder if this one is associated with the Cafe Manhattan on Hanley in Clayton, near the intersection with Wydown. From what you describe, it may very well be run by the same folks, since the menu sounds similar. We haven’t been to the one on Hanley since they moved across the street – they used to be next to the tropical fish store – but the old one had that old diner-ish look to it also.

    • April 15, 2007 at 7:41 am

      I believe they are, yes.

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