Not Yer Ordinary Greasy Spoon

by Jim Farrar (1986)

We used to go there when I was a kid. It's always been called Manley's and, as far as I know, it's been owned by the same family ever since it opened in the late fifties.

To call it just another roadside restaurant, of the type that used to be seen on almost every highway before the interstate sprang up and the antiseptic travel centers that you see today replaced them, to infer such a thing is to do it a grave disservice.

Manley's is more than another restaurant, or a reminder, a ghost, of how things used to be. Manley's is an institution. The statement is unbearably hackneyed, but true. It's the restaurant that I always take out-of-town guests to and it's the restaurant that they always ask to be taken back to when they come back.

My brother who lives in the San Francisco Bay area likes to take me to what he thinks is his town's answer to Manley's whenever I visit him. It's nice – the atmosphere is similar – but it isn't Manley's.

Manley's is a diner. Manley's is real and just a little run down, which underscores its charm. Val's, the restaurant that my brother tries to impress me with, is merely something new trying to look old. It just isn't authentic.

The parking lot at Manley's has never been paved and the road that runs in front of it is a two-laner. It's been that way as long as I can remember. There's a lawn out front which, during the summer, always needs to be cut. A couple of picnic tables have been placed out in this yard, a new addition that seems like an afterthought of some sort on the part of the owner.

Inside, the atmosphere and decor can be best described as classy squalor, or state-of-the-art greasy spoon. A linoleum counter with vinyl-covered swivel stools that run parallel to the walls behind them make up the bulk of the seating. A few years ago, the owners added a few pink booths which seem, like the picnic tables out front, to be merely incongruous accidents more than anything else.

The only hint of commercialization can be seen at the cash register. There, on a shelf next to the mirrored pie racks, are shelves with t-shirts on them. Manley's t-shirts, an acknowledgement of the diner's cult status, which can be had for the moderate fee of only eight dollars.

The menu is simple and the food is consistently good. And ample. Order their prime rib dinner and you'll be delivered a cut of meat that's only slightly smaller than a side of beef. Breakfasts are my favorite (biscuits and gravy), but then there are some that come for their pies, with crusts that only your grandmother could match.

I've eaten at Manley's at almost every hour of the day and there's one thing I've noticed about the people that come in there: they all come to do some serious eating. Remember, this is a place that forged its reputation by feeding truck drivers, plain old meat and potatoes men, and the portions still reflect this attitude, this "good food, simple, and plenty of it" notion of quality.

To say that the diner has a type of cult following seems at once both accurate and inaccurate. It's hard to say what the typical Manley's customer is and looks like. I'm typical. But so is the barrel-bellied blue collar fellow sitting on the stool next to me, as well as the man in the suit reading his newspaper and sipping his coffee who is sitting next to him. We all like good food and we all like the atmosphere, or perhaps the non-atmosphere, that Manley's offers.

We all like the brown haired waitress behind the counter who's worked there for as long as I can remember, who was there when I first started visiting the place in 1975. I think we like those things and something more, something a little more intangible. Manley's is a muse that reminds us that simple things really are the best things. Meat and potatoes. Sitting on those stools, we're all equals, in essence and in what we want, before the counter, which is an interesting metaphor if one is so inclined to make it.

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