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Monday, February 12, 2007

Manor Coffee Shop

I've been thinking about things lately. Thinking a lot.

I've been thinking that there are people who must champion the new, as well as those who champion the old. Both are important. Often, one takes precedence over the other, but either way we're sacrificing something.

No doubt, often is the case where such thoughts are unheard of and matters progress for better or worse. I see it happening all the time, and so do you.

But while it may seem contentious to juxtapose champions of the old against champions of the new, I think that a well-rounded person, a well-rounded community, and a well-rounded society must possess the characteristics of both.

You know how when you're driving east on Portola at night from the western side of Twin Peaks and then you pass Tower Market (now a Mollie Stones) and then you hit that spot where you can see the entire eastern portion of the city and you get this whole perspective of "Wow, this is it. This is who we are"?

Right about that time, Bruce and I were coming from the Manor Coffee Shop after having an early dinner. We had been out what seemed like all day, volunteering at the SF Food Bank (and meeting some nice folks), going to the hardware store, and getting special diet cat food at the SPCA. By the way, if our cats could articulate their displeasure, they would tell you that "Fancy Feast" is neither.

Anyway, so there we were. I began to take a mental inventory of all of the coffee shops I had eaten at and those where I had planned to eat. That's when it hit me: self-doubt. Doubt about what I'm doing. Is it right? Where am I going with all of this? Why am I spending my time on this?

I began to think, "what if nothing changed?" It's nice and cutesy to have all of these quaint relics from the past still in operation in our city, but what if there were more of them? In fact, what if nothing in the last 50 years had changed and we simply lived in one huge museum?

And that's when it dawned on me: we need both. We need both the old and the new for our own integrity; our integrity as a society and as a culture. We need the old to understand where we've been and for new generations to unlock the secrets and hidden mysteries only things older than ourselves can possess. We also must give these places and things time to mature so that we can appreciate them when their time is right. If large swaths of Westlake were destroyed in the 1980s to make way for new housing, I would've never had the opportunity to see these beautiful homes.

At the same time, we can't be stifled by the old. Sometimes fire must clear the brush for seedlings to grow. We've seen that fire quite literally in this city. We've seen the fire of development take away from us precious places and institutions, but we've also seen it "clear the brush" so that something new and beautiful and grand could grow in its place.

There is a place for both to coexist, and coexisting is what the Manor Coffee Shop is all about.

The Manor Coffee Shop is run by immigrants from China, but the clientele are mostly older white locals who've no doubt lived in the same neighborhood since the Manor was new. One doesn't have to be a genius to see that all of which I've mentioned above is at play here: the new, the old, both coexisting. New owners, new to America – old to America, old just in general.

And in fact, the interior décor of the Manor Coffee Shop itself is a hodge podge of constant reminders of the old and new. Old photographs of San Francisco and the West Portal neighborhood abound amidst the classic 1950s lunch counter and dining booths, while the occasional Vitamin Water or latest soft drink store display screams out at you from the clutter of yesteryear which surrounds it.

Maybe it just happened to be this way yesterday late afternoon, but when Bruce and I walked in, there were a few single old men sitting at the counter while most of the booths were occupied by groups of older ladies.

By the way, I'm pretty sensitive when it comes to age, so when I say old I mean that if you weren't to be trusted by ageist hippies during the Summer of Love, you're old. In fact, if you were an ageist hippie at the Summer of Love – you're fucking old, okay? I'm not hatin'!

I overheard our waitress remark to one of her table of regulars that she had been working there for the past 15 years and was an old lady now at the age of forty.

Oh. My. God. You should've heard the contempt those women muttered. In fact, I believe the precise words I heard were "Oh, puh-leeze. Someone bring me a violin already."


Anyway, the clutter of the past at the Manor is nothing compared to the clutter of their kitchen, which you have to walk through in order to get to the restroom. Bruce tipped me off to it and said that I needed to get a photo for the blog. He was right, only when I tried to be sly about it, the flash went off and scared the bejeebus out of the Chinese cooks in the back.

Flashes blow my cool every time.

Still, I've seen less clutter at Cookin' and that's really saying something. In a way, it's cool that it's this old kitchen with a lot of, ahem, character. On the other hand, I just hope none of that character spills over into my vegetable beef soup. This soup had all of the character it could handle, but it did need some salt.

Thankfully, our meal came quickly after the soup arrived. Bruce suffered through another Patty Melt while I opted to go for an item off the dinner menu. The Manor differs from the usual Coffee Shop standard in that it's open past 4 PM and has a dinner menu. Many of the lunch items are served for dinner and despite the 3 PM cut-off time posted on the menu, we were told at 5 PM that lunch was still available if we wanted it.

I had chopped steak and spaghetti with "homemade" meat sauce. I'm not sure when Italy abrogated her parental responsibilities and relinquished custody of her spaghetti children over to America, but nothing makes a more solid American meal than a big ass plate of spaghetti and red sauce.

The chopped steak, which I ordered medium rare, actually came little more rare than that but was decent nevertheless. Basically I ordered it because: what is this thing you call "Chopped Steak"? It's rare, no pun intended, one actually sees chopped steak listed on a menu anymore. Though at one point it was more common, chopped steak hasn't been in vogue since Key Parties.

Basically, it's steak which has been chopped and then reformed into a patty – yes, like a hamburger. It's less fatty than a hamburger and has a beefier flavor. The best part, if in fact you consider this a plus, is that it cuts without a knife, simply by using your fork.

And yes, there was A1 steak sauce to go around. I didn't even have to ask the waitress. She brought it to my table and thanked me for not asking. In fact, she'll thank you for just standing there. A smelly crazy bum walked in while we were waiting for our food and tried to get a free cup of coffee. She thanked him for "leaving now". She thanked him because her boss wasn't in right now and then thanked him to not come again.

It was refreshing in a way, because for once no one was thanking Jesus or God – and I'm certain they get tired of it themselves.

For the most part, I was happy with my throwback-to-another-era meal and the service (as I've mentioned) was excellent. However, Bruce got screwed on the Patty Melt.

What the hell?

We are finding out more and more that these wonderful, Asian-owned coffee shops excel in breakfast and certain other dishes but seriously lack in the patty melt department. How hard can it be? It's just a freakin' hamburger!

If you know where the bomb Patty Melt lives, can you please let me know?



At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

Why, I am some, aren't I?

It was a delight to meet you at long last, Kevin. Hope you had fun at the Food Bank, and are less sore than I am.


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