Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Off the Map: How Does One Decide It's Kugel Time?!

Noodle Kugel -- Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen, Chicago, IL
Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen

Believe it or not (...), we have a gripe: why can none of the Food Network stars pick Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes in DOWNTOWN Chicago?
You Know - Something at a CENTRAL LOCATION
With a few exceptions, they are sending us to the ends of the earth to eat rather bizarre culinary choices (pork rinds, anyone?).  We had been fairly good-humored about this phenomenon until now, when we are traipsing over the river (literally) and through the woods (figuratively) to Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen.
So Far Away... Doesn't Anybody Eat in One Place Anymore?
Manny's Deli is allegedly in the South Loop.  It also appears to be the ONLY place of business in the South Loop that is not a gas station or a warehouse.  Why, Ted Allen?!  WHY?  And how did you ever find this place?
Here's a Tip: There's Food Around These Parts, Too
When the beacon of Manny's lighted sign finally appears before us, we are drenched from sweat (thanks for the lack of shade, Chicago) and suffering from blisters.
Well, This is... Scenic
Perhaps We Could Trade in Our Legs for the Day
Glancing at her watch and finding that it is exactly 10:25am, Vodka announces, "Oh good, it's kugel time."

"How does one decide it's kugel time?!" Ginger asks in an accusatory tone.

"When I called them, they said the kugel comes out at 10:30," Vodka explains.  "And they run out, so it's best to arrive when it first appears."
But Thanks for the Kugel-Based Hostility
Fearing another Union Square Cafe bar nuts situation, we are relieved to find a pan of kugel resting on the counter when we enter.
This Better Be the Best Kugel of Our Lives, Ted Allen. Lucky for You, We Don't Eat Kugel, So It Shouldn't Be Hard
Manny's is set up like a true cafeteria, complete with trays, labeled entrees, and entirely too many workers not doing particularly much.
Perhaps They're Polishing the Hundreds of Unused Trays
We ask for a single plate of kugel, pick up our receipt, and head to one of the hundreds of tables within Manny's premises.  All but five of the tables are vacant, so we take a seat by the window in order to watch the world go by.

Unfortunately, there is not much "world" to be had in the South Loop, so our view is rather bleak.
Nothing But Our Kugel to Entertain Us
Now, Vodka is feeling especially reluctant about this kugel because a) she loves noodles and b) she HATES sweet entrees (a la sweet potatoes).  She greatly fears that this dish will completely ruin her beloved noodles by overdosing them in sugar, while Ginger, in contrast, is excited about any prospect of sweetness.
Vodka Comes Squarely from the "Raisins Don't Belong in Pasta" School of Thought
Taking our first bites, Ginger nods appreciatively and Vodka makes a face.  Without a word, she slashes off half of the portion, moves it to the side of the plate, and covers it heavily with salt.
You're This Kugel's One Last Hope, Salt Shaker
"Ahh, much better," she sighs, as Ginger makes every attempt to separate her own sweet side of the plate from the overflowing sodium.  Thankfully for Vodka, the kugel itself is not as overtly sweet as she had feared (though it does feature golden raisins, which she finds far from ideal).  It is also not particularly mushy, as the top layer of crunch has infiltrated deeper into the noodles than one would assume.
The Kugel Version of a "Muffin Top"
"I like the raisins," Ginger confesses.  "But really, who comes here?!"  Indeed, we have still not figured out how Ted Allen ever discovered this place in order to choose the kugel for the AT A DELI Best Thing I Ever Ate episode.
Tip: This Fountain Is Nowhere Nearby. Actually, Nothing Is
We consult our itinerary, at which point Ginger discovers that our next scheduled eating activity is not until this evening.
This Will Never Do. A Girl Needs a Steady Stream of Cocktails Through the Day
"We're not eating for another seven-and-a-half hours?!" she asks with horror, as if we may actually starve in the coming minutes.  It is therefore decided that we will go to the Art Museum to day drink, which is obviously our favorite cultural activity of all. 
There Are Worse Things Than Staring at the Water on a Sunday
In truth, Manny's could learn a lesson from the Art Institute: perhaps if they offered some spirits in their cafeteria, Chicago tourists would indulge in "kugel time" more often.

Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen's Noodle Kugel: 3 stars

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