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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mimi's Manor House Restaurant

I've put this post off for far too long, and I probably should apologize to Mark and you all for it. But, as you can see, I have my excuses.

So without further ado, I present to you Mimi's Manor House Restaurant.

Mimi's is a restaurant Mark Ellinger turned me on to after we hit Taqueria Cancun to discuss his photographs of SRO hotels in the Tenderloin.

While we're on the subject of Mark's photographs, please go to the Partners in Preservation website and vote on your favorite landmark that's in need of funding and restoration. We here at Dive are rooting for the Tenderloin Façade and Neon Sign Improvement category because, frankly, we can't imagine San Francisco without the Lafayette Coffee Shop or Original Joe's signs.

I arrived at Mimi's early one Sunday morning and grabbed a table while I waited for Mark. When I say grabbed, I literally mean grabbed. The place was jamming, and almost everyone at Mimi's were vying for a seat.

When Mark showed up, I was somewhat relieved since I no longer felt like I might have to fight off a few Tenderloin denizens for the extra seat I was holding on to.

I've thought about this post for some time and to be honest, I've been very reluctant to call Mimi's Manor House Restaurant a "dive". It has some of the qualities I list as being dive-worthy, such as the Regular, the Rock Bottom (ie,. price), and the Idiosyncratic factors. It, to a certain extent, even as the Fear Factor – we're in the Tenderloin after all.

But I'm not really sure I should call it a dive.

What it is is a restaurant that's attached to a low-income residential hotel in a run-down area of town that recently had a major facelift. And while I generally approve of remodels, especially when it benefits the needy, I'm a preservationist when it comes to dives – so hands off the yellowed photographs and Formica countertops, already!

Trust me, I've watched Antiques Roadshow enough to know that you don't fuck with the patina of anything old.

Unfortunately, the interiors of the Manor House Restaurant are utilitarian to a fault. Bright fluorescent lights glare onto walls painted in institutional, calming colors - as if one could be sitting in the waiting room of the VA hospital. Wear and tear is noticeable on the square support columns and chair rails where tables, chairs, wheelchairs, and God-knows-what else has banged into them.

But despite the cold feeling you get from the interiors, the feeling the staff gives to the customers is warm, particularly from Mimi herself. Despite envisioning her as an elderly mother figure, the real Mimi is a young woman of Asian descent who knows each and every regular and what they usually will have to eat. I can see why Mark speaks so highly of her, as she shows such politeness to random strangers, some of whom, unfortunately, do not or cannot reciprocate.

Don't think I'm being too down on the customers at Mimi's. For the most part, they are there to be fed and then go about their business. It just happens that some of their business involves selling drugs or getting back home before their parole officer calls (as was the case with the woman sitting behind me).

The day I met Mark, a high roller parked his brand new SUV out in front of the restaurant. Out of the large plate-glass windows that line the exterior of Mimi's, I could observe all that was going on outside.

The guy sat there for the longest time, watching all that was going on, or maybe passing the time until his next appointment. Eventually I looked up and he was gone.

At that point, a portly, old school, high roller, perhaps not so high or old, walked into Mimi's with an outfit that screamed either pimp or complete idiot. It was a suit jacket that had wide lavender and white vertical stripes, worn with white pants, shoes, and a wide-brimmed hat. I think he even had a pimp cane. The guy looked like a walking circus tent and suddenly made me crave taffy, cotton candy, and drunken clowns.

Meanwhile, a black guy sitting at a corner table near the entrance, who had scrutinized every single person who walked through the doors (including yours truly), finally saw the guy he was waiting for – a young, unkempt white guy with stringy, greasy brown hair. They both exchanged a curt greeting and left the restaurant together.

At this point, our food finally arrived. Mark had the corn beef hash with fries and eggs ($4.55), plus a side of bacon, and I had the pork chops with hash browns and eggs ($4.45). While most of the food was hot and plentiful, my pork chops were a little lifeless and cold. The eggs were ok, but kinda greasy.

I really wanted to like the pork chops and I definitely had my hopes up, but they were way too flavorless and fatty.

I think Mark had the right idea with the hash and fries, since those looked much better than mine. Still, it was hard to argue with the price and the quantity of the food set out before us. Combined with the standard side of toast and the bottomless cup of coffee, this is what you'd expect from a good greasy spoon, even though you wouldn't know it was one at first.

I can see why folks in the TL love this place so much. It has a strong "commitment to the neighborhood" feel to it and the food, while not always the greatest (I'm still waiting to try this famous cheeseburger I keep hearing about), seems to be pretty solid.

And even though it seems as if I do, I don't rate food higher because of the price/quantity ratio. However, the low price of a breakfast at Mimi's remains just a little bit shocking to me, even as I write this long after my first visit. In a city where the average omelet and homefries will start you off at around 7 or 8 dollars, the prices at Mimi's, with a few exceptions, average out to $4.00 a plate.

If it weren't for the short hours it was open, I'd be making more trips over to the Manor House Restaurant. As it is, I'll have to find another Sunday to go over and try the lunch menu.

Until then, I must give up my seat to someone who's ready to eat.



At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, hi,

Thanks for plugging Partners in Preservation! The TL facade & neon sign restoration project needs lots more votes.

Good review of Mimi's; and yes, you definitely should return for a bacon-cheeseburger and frenchfries -- my personal favorite meal at Mimi's.

Drop me a line if you'd like company on one of your dive adventures. I realize that you mostly review restaurant-type dives, but if you're ever in the vicinity of Mission & 24th Streets, check out King's Bakery (it's about 3 or 4 doors west of 24th St. on the north side of Mission). The BEST Chinese/Mexican panaderia in town! Try the $0.75* meat-filled pastries (beef, ham & chicken) & the $0.35* oblong, sesame-sprinkled buns for sure and anything else that strikes your fancy. I used to live on 26th St. near Capp and would visit King's Bakery several times a week for the 3 years I lived there.

*these were the prices about 5 or 6 months ago. I don't get over there too often these days.

Glad you're up and writing again.



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