Manny's Steaks serves steaks, steaks, and more steaks, each thicker than Sarah Palin's brain. It offers seafood steaks, too, and lobsters larger than Lindsay Lohan. Then there's shrimp cocktail, hash browns, and creamed spinach — we all know the classic steak-house playbook by now. We're also familiar with the formula for décor: a handsome if staid space arrayed with white-clothed tables on a hardwood floor, dark brown booths, towering wine racks, and more wood than a lumberyard. These days, that old boys'-club look gets face-lifted into more family-friendly terrain, and at this second branch of Manny's (the original is in Minneapolis), the room is lightened via sleek lines; curved, windowed walls; and a framed single-panel New Yorker-style comic hanging above each banquette. Though a steak house is a steak house is a steak house, what differentiates Manny's from Miami's plethora of others is its sense of humor.
My visit began with a hearty hello and a hefty dose of cornball from some manager/host who, as he whisked us to our seats, said stuff such as "Follow me, y'all," and "Sure hope you remembered to bring along your appetites!" As soon as we were seated, one server after another came by with water, bread, and more one-liners than diners hear in a borscht-belt supper club. Holding up one of two bottles of clear liquid, each shaped like a distinctively familiar vodka, our waiter announced it contained the restaurant's in-house filtered tap water. As he lowered the first jug, he raised the second: "And this one is Absolut."
Manny's Steaks: 300 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-938-9000. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., and Sunday 5 to 9:30 p.m.
I generally abhor such theatrics with my meal, whether it is grandiose gesturing, ingratiating cheer, belly dancing, or mariachi bands. Especially mariachi bands. But the staff here seems sincere and tries so hard to make everyone feel happy — and welcome! — that it overcame even this critic's cynicism. Plus their comedic timing was impeccable (perhaps waiters must pass some stand-up test before getting hired). Most important, they possessed confident knowledge of menu items and provided swift, efficient service — on top of everything from the check-in to the check.
Fantastic food only fuels the good cheer. Going back to the bread: thick slabs of caraway-flecked rye, and black bread beaded with golden raisins, each easily swathed with softly whipped butter swiped from a ramekin on the side. Then came a duo of lobster cakes: lumps of luscious claw meat savorily seasoned with seemingly just a smattering of breadcrumbs, herbs, butter, and air. Twenty bucks is a lot for an appetizer, but this is a case of getting as good as you give. Also recommended: a trio of short rib and scallop sliders — like mini surf-and-turf sloppy joes.
Then come the meats, a trolley of 'em wheeled tableside and differentiated by name, weight, and taste characteristics (in an enthusiastically upbeat manner, of course). Main offerings include a 20-ounce New York strip, two sizes of filet mignon, a 24-ounce porterhouse, and the same weight bone-in rib eye. The last was marvelously marbled, darkly charred, totally tender, and bursting with burly beef flavor.
Steaks like these don't require much accompaniment, but Manny's offers chimichurri, peppercorn brandy sauce, hollandaise, and a terrifically tart tarragon-tinted béarnaise at a $3 surcharge apiece. Meats are expensive enough naked, generally ranging from $40 to $48. The most exorbitant cut is the "bludgeon of beef," a 40-ounce rib eye attached to gargantuan bone ($94.95). Tasty as these dry-aged center-cut steaks are, at these prices they should also be naturally fed and hormone-and-antibiotic-free — such as those of their closest competitor, Prime Blue Grille, across the street.
On the low end of the scale is a $29.95 "baseball steak," which I suspected might be a hot dog but is so named for its spherical shape. Cut fillet-style from the top sirloin, it is actually closer to softball-size, boasts a strong meat taste, and is overall less like a steak than your own personal roast beef (leftovers tasted great the next day when thinly sliced into sandwiches).
There is an almost Monty Python-esque quirkiness to the ordering process. For example, you request your porterhouse medium-rare. The waiter explains the cut is very thick, and if you order it medium-rare, it will likely come raw, so if you really want to ensure it's served medium rare, you should order it medium. So you say, "Okay, I'll have the porterhouse medium." When the next person at the table asks for pork chops medium, the same spiel is given, this time requiring the person to order the pork medium-well so as to get the desired doneness. And so forth. Once the waiter leaves, you wonder aloud why the kitchen crew can't just take thickness into consideration to begin with and cook the meats accordingly. I guess it's just Manny's being Manny's.
The plate of pork chops, incidentally, brought three plump, juicy pieces, each prepared differently: plain grilled, Cajun-spiced, and "Sicilian" (pan-fried with Parmesan breading).
Manny's website goes for laughs as well. Click on any of the pictured steaks and a description appears; click the photo of grilled wild-caught salmon and you'll get chided, "Why are you even considering this?" Still, a few seafood items are available here, including that thick plank of salmon, ahi tuna steak, Chilean sea bass, and shrimp scampi. Most fish enthusiasts, however, get reeled in by the three- to eight-pound Maine lobsters ($35 per pound) or 24- to 28-ounce Australian lobster tail ($125). Given those prices, I could only peer with envy at the cooked white tails, big and puffy as pillows, trolleying past to other tables like clouds on a windy day.
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Potato sides encompass the obligatory giant baked potato; homemade chips; "loaded mashed potatoes" laden with bacon, sour cream, melted cheddar, and fresh chives (it must weigh 10 pounds); and a perfect rendering of hash browns — golden-crisp outside, steamy-soft and spotted with onions within. The menu claims each potato side "serves two," but these spuds can easily feed six. Vegetable sides are a bit smaller, but the old steak-house signature of creamed spinach couldn't be small enough — fresh green leaves and sweet cream sauce were betrayed by way too much garlic.
Another steak-house inevitability is a wine list long as a Russian novel. Manny's menu mentions some 900 bottles; American labels dominate, and Italy and France are the main countries of import. Besides the more common vineyards, there are a few dozen interesting reds and whites to choose from; these are listed under "interesting reds" and "interesting whites." Although many if not most selections are marked up 2 to 2.5 times (not terrible for a place such as this), the restaurant would do well to sell a few more affordable bottles. For instance, the only Pinot Noir under $54 comes from Putz Cellars — oh, sorry, Rutz Cellars. But you get the point.
Make sure you get the pecan pie for dessert. The giant wedge of crisp, buttery crust contains an avalanche of nuts and melted chocolate, the entire thing dreamily smeared with a snowcap of creamy vanilla ice cream. Other desserts are also delectable, comically oversize, and a whole lot of fun. Just Manny's being Manny's.