Occupation: Courts Policy Analyst
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Manor Coffee Shop
Reviewed Manor Coffee House: Saturday, April 17, 2010
West Portal’s humble Manor Coffee Shop is a diner and proudly so. That makes this cheery place one of an ever-increasingly rare breed in the city. And while a lot of places are described as “authentic neighborhood,” the Manor’s red vinyl booths and counter stools have been that way for years. While there are many homey touches on the walls illustrating San Francisco history, it’s not dusty or stodgy, and once you’ve been in a couple of times, the pink-uniformed waitresses will remember you thereafter. It’s not self-consciously retro or overrun by hipsters, like at similar places in the Mission and the Castro. I especially appreciate the attention they pay to the area seniors, and that they have kept their prices reasonable. The service is great: friendly, prompt, and efficient.
You do not go to the Manor to have your capers sourced or to ponder the mouthfeel of your Sauce Mornay. The food is traditional, tasty diner, of high quality, and a very good value.
On this visit, my dining companion had the cheeseburger for an early lunch, and it is a sublime example of what the Manor does well. The burger is cooked to order and is the perfect size, not too big. It’s a great example of the way the Manor does not go for unappetizingly gargantuan portions, which many people mistake for “value.” The plate has enough to keep you satisfied, and is served with fries that are nice and potato-y, much like at In-and-Out Burger, but better and cooked just a little crispier.
The breakfast choices are many. You can have eggs any way you’d like, as well as sausage, bacon, ham in a bunch of different combinations, including the rib-eye steak and eggs. I always used to think, “Well, if I want a steak I’d go to a steakhouse,” but on this visit I decided to try it and I’m glad I did. The huge steak was cooked to perfect medium on the griddle and served with a mondo-sized bottle of A-1 Sauce. The meat was tender and juicy, and our waitress Nancy explained it’s because they slice each steak individually off the roast prior to cooking. This is a coffee shop steak, mind you, and I’d suggest asking them to throw on a little extra salt and pepper before they cook it. However, a bite of the meat smothered in the sunny yolks from the perfect fried eggs with a touch of A-1 is Americana on a plate. Throw in a couple of bites of crispy on the outside, tender on the inside hash browns (not the played-out “breakfast potatoes”), and it’s the perfect hangover meal.
The menu has a gazillion other options, among them crispy waffles and fluffy pancakes, a yummy Patty Melt, and, two nights a week, a perfect Proustian French dip sandwich, piled with roast beef and served with an au jus that took me back to my childhood when it was my go-to restaurant pick on cross-country car trips. What is also great about the Manor is that they treat the extensive menu more like a set of guidelines; you can take this out here, substitute something else there, throw two things together, and the Manor will do it and make you happy.
Although diner is often synonymous with “greasy spoon,” the cooking is not oily and heavy; you don’t feel you have to order an angioplasty for dessert. Instead order a piece of pie! I had a personal favorite: a big piece of firm custard pie with a dusting of nutmeg, literally like Grandma used to make. (The dessert portions are where the Manor happily over indulges.) I’m originally from Iowa and maybe I am a sucker for State Fair ribbons, but the Manor has them for their pies. My fellow diner had a textbook soda fountain chocolate milk shake: smooth and not too thick. For beverages, the coffee is good, hot, and frequently refilled, and it’s a place where you don’t have to worry about a wine list (they have a house red or house white; haven’t tried either), but they do have Heineken. And they might card you if you appear to be south of forty.
The Manor Coffee Shop is great place to go to grab a quick bite before a movie up the street or to sit at the counter over breakfast and a paper. You’ll feel like you have been going there forever from the first time you visit. It’s the type of place San Franciscans should cherish.
Occupation: Retired Cooking Teacher
Location: Walnut Creek
Favorite Restaurant: Sichuan Fortune House
Reviewed Manor Coffee House: Saturday, April 10, 2010
We went to the Manor Coffee Shop last Saturday, and what a kick! This is such a retro 60s place in the West Portal neighborhood, that is decorated with old posters and pictures of San Francisco. There’s one cash register and it’s the OLD STYLE kind where you press the dollar and cents sign! Formica counters and tables with vinyl seats complete the retro decor. Gee, I almost expect Fonzie to walk through the door at any minute. The only thing lacking was the jukebox!
It was not too busy that late morning. (We were there around 11:15 AM.) We decided to sit at the counter, so we could watch everything. The waitresses were friendly and efficient. There are so many items on the menu that I was totally confused by the selection and I ended up ordering a breakfast combination of one egg with bacon and waffle and a side of hash browns. I also ordered an item called spud stick, which is a potato sliced with a special spiral machine, then deep fried and skewered with a long thick wooden stick. It is served vertically on a special stand. You can choose two toppings for each skewer. We had garlic/parmesan and sour cream/chives. That was yummy. I think this is a great item if you have kids because they’ll have fun taking the slices apart and eating them.
My friend ordered the Crunchy, Munchy Chicken, which are chicken wings that have been marinated and deep-fried with a crunchy batter. They were very tasty and reminded my friend of the chicken wings his dad used to make. We both had freshly squeezed orange juice, and it was so sweet with lots of pulp. We also had coffee, and our cups were constantly refilled without us having to ask.
We ended up ordering peach pie for dessert and that was NOT GOOD. The pie was full of cornstarch goo with neon yellow food coloring , very few slices of peach, and no peach flavor.
All in all, it was still a good experience. The waitress knew many customers by name, and you got this feeling of comfy and hominess, which is a quality that’s hard to find in today’s hurried business world. The owner came out toward the end of our meal and stopped and talked to several customers, including us. I will definitely come back and try their sandwiches and their Friday special, which is Mac and Cheese and one of my favorite comfort foods!
For all the food for both of us, the total was $36, tax and tip included. That’s $18 per person.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: L’Ardoise Bistro
Reviewed Manor Coffee House: Saturday, April 17, 2010
On a recent warm, sunny day, two of us made our way up the hill to West Portal, one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. We arrived at Manor Coffee Shop, where the greeting was incredibly warm and friendly; you could instantly tell the establishment was family-owned. It had that familial vibe. The crowd was mostly on the older side, and we could see there were a lot of old-time regulars, who knew exactly what they came in for! No lines out the door like other brunch places in town, which could be a good or a bad sign on a Saturday morning!
The servers were wearing old-school uniforms and hats, and the booth benches and the bar were modeled after a 1950s diner. The feeling I got after sitting down and absorbing the atmosphere and leafing through the menu was that it reminded me of a mini Mel’s (or any other such) Diner. And speaking of the menu, I was so surprised to see so many options. It was simply HUGE! Every kind of diner fare you could imagine! “How could they pack all this food in that tiny kitchen area?!” I wondered.
I looked across and saw a whimsical looking tower of potato chips, aptly called the “Silly Spuds.” We both looked at each other and instantly agreed to order one, just for the fun of it! It’s a spiral of potato chips, fried in oil, then spiced with your choice of two flavors. We had “ranch” and “white cheddar” salt sprinkled on ours. And it was just that: silly fun. I could see children being really entertained by such a unique presentation of fried potato chips.
For our serious dishes, I ordered an item that was a house specialty, just so I could capture more of what makes this place unique. My partner ordered eggs Benedict, so he could compare it to other brunch places, where he orders it all the time. Not two minutes later, the food was served! WOW! The Benedict dish was good, as you would expect it to be. Couldn’t tell if the hollandaise sauce was homemade or not, but it really didn’t matter, as it tasted great.
My Ray’s Special, on the other hand was just OK. The combination of minced beef, eggs, and spinach sounded good on paper, but actually lacked pizzazz, and the greasy, hearty dish left you very full, very fast. It was like eating a breakfast burger without the bun! It was way too heavy for me, and I kept finding myself adding more salt and pepper, to kick the flavor up a notch. Coffee was good: fresh and served hot and frequently. Which brings up another great quality about that place: the friendly and attentive service, which made for an enjoyable time, even though my dish was not quite up to par. Also, the prices were very reasonable, across the board.
Would I go back again next weekend? Probably not, as I’ve had better overall experiences elsewhere. But if I were to find myself again in the neighborhood and want a good Benedict, I’ll stop in for that and for the great service. Maybe grab a good book to bring with me and sit at that charming bar again.