Ramble Plan Mike: Manning’s, Minneapolis

Weather: 93°F (34°C) and humid, under hazy Summer skies.
Road Conditions: Broken up by gratuitous road destruction.

Manning’s Cafe and Bar has been a Minneapolis institution since 1932.

Hennepin County, Minnesota seems to be trying very hard to kill off it’s living history, in favor of modern development. I have witnessed this on three separate occasions now, and it really is taking on the dark countenance of conspiracy.

Ramble Plan Mike was supposed to have been routed through a small town called Carver, west of where I work. It was going to be a long ride down county roads, through hobby farm country, to a small town where most of the buildings are on the National Historic Register, and an old Mobil gas station was preserved in all of it’s 1950’s glory. A beautiful photo-op for my new Vespa, and some welcome exposure for a town with an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, ALL main roads into town were closed for dubious construction projects, undoubtably connected to the insidious march of Condo-topia, as envisioned by the monied bureaucrats and developers in their penthouse offices in downtown Minneapolis. By the time Rose and I found our way to Main Street, we had lost the light, and most of our enthusiasm in the bargain.

So I decided to route Ramble Plan Mike through the heart of the Twin Cities, down some of the roads we charted on Ramble Plan Bravo, but continuing on down Como Avenue all the way to Marion in Saint Paul. Our dinner stop was a place that just celebrated it’s 75th anniversary; Manning’s Cafe and Bar at the corner of Como and SE 22nd Avenue, in one of Minneapolis’ old millworker’s neighborhoods.

This is the second year in a row they have choked off Como Avenue.

Today, Manning’s has that classic family clientele and happy-loud ambience that only a long-time neighborhood fixture can achieve. The bar portion is small and toned-down in favor of the cafe, which serves up local favorites and takes special pride in their burgers. These are made with prime ground beef, and they are not afraid to serve it rare, if you so desire. That was exactly what I was looking for, tonight.

I perused the menu, ticking off the usual hamburger, cheeseburger, California, Mushroom and Swiss. All the staples were there, no surprise. But when I came to the Patty Melt, the next entry threw me. Manning’s Patty Melt is your usual large beef patty smothered in fried onions and melted cheeses, served on pumpernickel bread. I like pumpernickel better than regular rye, so that was a point in their favor. But the next entry was Mexican Patty Melt!

What the…?

This is their normal P-M, smothered in homemade chili, served with a side of tortilla chips and salsa, rather than the usual potato chips. This sounded like something that could be absolutely sublime, if they could pull it off, or completely horrible if they couldn’t. Naturally, that’s what I ordered.

No disappointments. My server Renae brought it out to me, almost before I was even ready. When I separated the halves, the beef showed bright pink and juicy underneath all those delicious embellishments.

Manning’s Mexican Patty Melt, you have to taste it to believe it…

The photo hardly does it justice. I ate this delicacy with knife and fork, although the way it is served might invite the knuckle-dragger amongst us to wrap a fist around it and plunge right in.

I skipped the tortilla chips, and the canned salsa, just as I would have the potato chips on any other selection. The half-pound of Mexican Patty Melt was enough to last me until at least lunchtime tomorrow, all by itself. Well worth the $7.95 they asked for it.

After dinner, I spoke briefly with Helen, one of the managers and the senior waitress (You wouldn’t ever call Helen a “server”…) present. She has been at Manning’s for over 20 years, and everybody in the place seems to treat her like Mom.

Even though the city and county keep closing down their street, Helen tells me that business at Manning’s is not suffering. They welcome motorcyclists, bikers, scooterists… whatever your particular two-wheeled persuasion. The parking lot is visible from one of the dining rooms, so you can keep an eye on your ride while you eat. This is a Big Plus, I told her, for people like us.

The remainder of Ramble Plan Mike was more of the same old city traffic, but on roads less travelled. Vespa Rose and I had a relatively easy time of it, all the way to Kellogg Boulevard, and across the river at Robert Street. Those “No Thru Traffic” signs actually benefit us, because we don’t have to deal with random car traffic. So the construction zones keep the casual SUV/GPS-weenies out of our way.

Hey, when it comes to getting around city traffic, I’ll take whatever I can get…

15 Responses to “Ramble Plan Mike: Manning’s, Minneapolis”

  1. Sidewalk Dan Says:

    Hmmm, conveniently located just up the road from the The Sportsman’s Pub & Grill.

    I have consumed a few adult beverages in both places (I have a friend who lives just up the block from both) – and I highly recommend both.

    Some people call them dives – or hole in the walls (sounds like a KLR). Other people see it simply as a place to enjoy a drink and some grub, nothing more.

    Though technically still in Minneapolis, it is a far cry from the the trappings of our not so beloved downtown – where people go to be seen, and get obnoxiously fall-down drunk.

    Case in point. This am on my ride to work (not TM), I had the displeasure of riding over a good block or three of horse$hit. Why would there be horse apples in the middle of downtown Minneapolis? Crowd control. It seems bar closing (now 2am in Murderopolis) is an event and has been for some time. All the mega bars/clubs are stacked w/in a few blocks of each other (right where I work) and come 2am – let the real party start…

    Alas, I’ve rambled again. Sorry.

    Anyway – stop on in to either place. Both cater to the neighborhood locals (mostly college students as the Univ. of MN is a short distance away) – nothing upscale or trendy about them (again, much like a KLR). Just the kind of place I go out of my way in order to find a cold beverage!

    But leave it to Gary to find a Mexican Patty Melt. Well done brother, well done!

    Sidewalk Dan out.

  2. Streeter Says:

    (Sorry Paul… This post has been edited in the interest of avoiding another Dulono’s. Thanks buddy, but I’ve already been told.)

  3. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Sidewalk Dan: You’ll have to join me for dinner there sometime. I’ll give you a call…

    Ride well,

  4. Bill Sommers Says:

    No matter how the Plan was changed by the road crushers, the meal had to have made up for it in spades. I’m pretty sure that I would have “knuckle dragged” that big sammich. I’m not to proud to wear a chili bean smile!

    Have fun,

  5. Harvey Binder Says:

    The old places had soul. The new ones have income foremost in mind. Which one is the better living?

    By the way, what’s that helmet Paul Streeter is wearing? The modular…

    And I losted your telephonical address…

    Hhhhhhaaaaaarrrrrrrrr v

  6. Steve Williams Says:

    I had a discussion a few days ago with two photographers about old places having soul and new places having none. We all agreed that soul comes with time and that even the most obnoxious new building will have it some day.

    To test that theory I looked at a couple modern (post-1970 construction) buildings that are now in decline and nearly abandoned. They have soul developed from years of hard use. The human patina and grime endow them with something….

    We just need to wait a long time.

    I rode through part of the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania today. We have sucked the energy from the land leaving a sad landscape behind. Now there is only a ghost of soul…..

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

  7. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Bill: The Carver Expedition will happen, but it’s going to have to be early on a weekend morning, so the light hits the front of the old Mobil station. But you’re right, Ramble Plan Mike turned out well, due mostly to that incredible Mexican Patty Melt. Watch for a revisit in a future blog entry…

    Harv: I’ll ask Paul, and then get back to you. Watch your email…

    Steve: Since Harv brought it up, and you elaborated, I guess I’ll chime in with my take on this whole “soul” thing. You see, I’ve given this a lot of thought. Age, and the “human patina”, certainly do contribute “soul” to a place. But even the oldest McDonalds drive through has no soul, because it is run by a soulless corporation. Minimum wage, disinterested youth work alongside desperate seniors whose retirement plan never quite worked out.

    Although some of them try to put a human face on the experience, all that buzzing and beeping of machinery in the background, and the same old bland food that you get anywhere in the world now, takes away any unique identity.

    Conversely, you take an enthusiastic crew, have them open up a new place in an old building, or even a unique new one, and you can have an instant classic. It’s all about how the people who work there approach the job, and how original the food is. All it takes is a good waitress hollering out in counter-code to a short order cook to lend soul to a place, especially if the food is good.

    But as soon as a large corporation gets involved, and the bean-counters begin running the show, it sucks the soul right out of the whole operation. Harv alluded to this, but let me expound: As soon as the focus shifts from quality food and atmosphere to efficient operation and maximum profit, the magic goes away, and you are left with just another fast-food nightmare.

    That’s why you will never see a Denny’s or Perkins or Bakers Square reviewed here. Why bother?

    Ride well,

  8. Steve Williams Says:


    We are probably talking about two different things. You are talking about buildings in use and I am thinking of buildings abandoned. Probably the photographer speaking. There are a lot of buildings and places operated by souless entities that have strong presence.

    I agree with you though on what can happen when an active enterprise is reduced to the most efficient capital engine. LL Bean is a good example. Profit is important but there are other components too. I suppose as long as they are making money they don’t care about the rest. Puts us in the rebel category.

    I do think you need to review a Denny’s though. I think you might be surprised what you would make of the experience. It is where America eats afterall….

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

  9. Harvey Binder Says:

    Oh man I wish I could have you guys in one room. Except not like this, on my pc, but in real life flesh and bones full of soul and spirit and insight living color. I gotta read the exchange a few more times… Wow!


  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Steve: I don’t make it a habit to eat in abandoned buildings… ;^)

    Harv: That would make for an interesting evening, wouldn’t it?

    Ride well,

  11. MatL Says:

    That would be an interesting evening indeed… one where you can see each other’s faces and thoughts forming and reactions to each other… as topics of the day are debated, memories honored, and new friends are made.

  12. Buster Brown Says:

    Next time, try the sirloin tips.

  13. Streeter Says:

    Harvey Binder asked:

    “By the way, what’s that helmet Paul Streeter is wearing? The modular…”

    My red one is a Nolan, my newer one is an HJC. I really like the modular helmets because of my glasses. I wish they made a dirt helmet in modular.

  14. AZ Lucky Says:

    Hey Gary,

    Let’s say there was this guy in Arizona who likes motorcycles… and he was going to be travelling up north later this summer. For example, in the St. Paul area (with occasional trips to the evil twin)…

    Do you know of a place a fella like that could rent a NON-HD motorcycle suitable for 2-up riding?

    Just curious. Our imaginary friend can’t find anything but HD rentals on google.

  15. Gary Charpentier Says:

    I’ll check into that for you, Lucky. Er, for your friend, I mean…

    Ride well,