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Nov 14, 2002 02:03 PM

Corned Beef Shoot Out: Manny’s vs AP Deli (Long)

  • g


So there I was driving along South Wabash this morning, happily humming along to Timbuk3’s Tarzan was a Bluesman, when, out of the corner of my eye, I spot AP Deli, which has been discussed at length on Chowhound. Incredibly enough, there was a parking space directly in front of AP, so, without any conscious decision making on my part, next thing I knew I was at the counter of AP ordering a corned beef sandwich.

AP, at least on Wabash, is take out only with a small ordering area, a serve yourself soda dispenser and a glass refrigerated case with industrial looking packaged desserts. The counter staff, which consisted of a very friendly young lady taking the orders, a sandwich prep guy and a managerial type, of the sandwich stand variety, were all clean, efficient and courteous. That, in conjunction with a spotless sandwich prep area is all one can expect from a take out place.

No wait, there’s more than clean and friendly, there’s the sandwich, in this case, corned beef. Sadly to say the corned beef was lacking, so lacking that I would say the taste compares more to Hormel Canned Corned Beef Product than the Jewish style corned beef it was trying to emulate.

The corned beef was sliced paper thin, you could read through the slices, and cut from the point (Deckle/fatty) end of the corned brisket. Now normally, as that Bam guy on Food TV says, fat’s where the flavor’s at, but in this case the flavor had been completely steamed out of the meat. I remembered of the Chowhound AP reviews one person said they found the corned beef salty, no salt flavor here, actually, there was no discernable flavor what so ever.

My joking comment about Hormel is not all that far from the truth, the corned beef was sliced so thin that compressing the sandwich to take a bite, it was quite large, turned the corned beef into paste, which is where I got the Hormel idea. The bread they served it on, Kaiser or onion was .66 extra and I thought my first AP deli sandwich should be OEM, was called rye, but was more like tan wonder bread than Rosen’s.

The best thing about the sandwich was the fact that there was an included pack of half sour pickle and sport peppers. I asked the manager what type of corned beef they used, though I remembered a Chowhound (Rene?) asking the same question with the answer of “we make it ourselves,” the answer I was given was Kelly & Eisenberg.

What made the Kelly & Eisenberg answer all the more surprising was that K & E makes pretty darn good corned beef, AP must have either simmered or steamed this for quite a while to leach out all the flavor.

After my first bite of the AP sandwich, I realized that I really did not want to eat 3/4ths of a LB of fatty, flavorless corned beef, but I was now in the mood for corned beef, then it hit me, I was scant blocks from Manny’s.

Once again I found parking directly in front the restaurant, which at Manny’s is extremely unusual, and with 3/4ths of my AP deli in the trash I headed into Manny’s.

Folks, let me tell you there is no comparison, I mean absolutely no comparison, between Manny’s and AP, none whatsoever. Manny’s, while also machine sliced a bit on the thin side, has a flavor and texture that jumps right out at you. The sandwich, which was conservatively 1 whole pound of corned beer, it was pre-lunch, slow and I schmoozed with the sandwich maker a bit, was just this side of lean, with the proper amount of fat to lend extra flavor and juiciness.

I also ordered a cup of matzo ball and ended up wrapping up half the corned beef, no way Manny’s leftovers were going into the trash bucket. I almost forgot to mention, Manny’s serves its corned beef on fresh tasting Jewish style rye bread.

So the result is no contest, Manny’s by a landslide. If you are in the 700 block of South Wabash and in the mood for corned beef, go the extra few blocks to Manny’s. If you are in the 700 block of South Wabash and hungry, go to Harold’s for Chicken in the 600 block of South Wabash. Actually, according to the AP menu, they also have turkey, roast beef and a few other sandwiches, which might be quite good, just don’t order the corned beef.

By the way, Thursday is ox tail day at Manny’s, which was hard to resist, but corned beef is king at Manny’s


A P Deli
704 S Wabash
Chicago, IL
Multiple Locations

Harold’s Chicken
363 S Wabash
Chicago, IL.

1141 S Jefferson
Chicago, IL

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  1. Sigh, . . . preaching to the converted. ;-)


    1. I always look longingly at the stews and other dishes at Manny's and then order Pastrami on rye, with matzo ball soup. Always. Half the sandwich goes home. Sigh of happiness,


      1. Having hit the AP on North Avenue a number of times over the course of the past several months, I have to admit that consistency isn't theire strong suit.

        On my first visit, the product there was the epiphany of what i think corned beef should be: flavorful and warm with a fat content that did wonders for the flavor.

        On my second visit (with Ron Rosenbaum), he enjoyed. But, I remarked to him that it wasn't as good as it had been on my previous visit.

        My third and fourth visits produced the same result: inconsistent with one great serving and one that looked like it had been exposed to air for a bit too long.

        I guess that's the downfall of a place like AP. If they could emulate what I had on the first and third visits with consistency, they would have my vote, hands down, for best corned beef of all time. But, you have to understand that when you're curing and cooking your own corned beef on site, you're going to have the risk of the overexposure to water resulting in a less than tasty product from time to time. It's not a problem that I didn't find at Katz's in New York sometimes.

        I'm not really sure how they can overcome that except to throw away an awful lot of corned beef that gets water logged. Since a sandwich already runs about $6.50, that's not going to be cost effective for them.

        As for Manny's, I had my first experience there this week. The matzoh ball soup was out of this world. The corned beef, as noted, is a pre-packaged Vienna Beef product.

        It's consistent (because it's mass produced) and its good. But there's no way it can match the best of the AP product because, frankly, it's not the same thing. The difference is much like the difference between the absolute packaged roast beef and a rib roast that you cook yourself.

        Now, all that said, after polishing off my Manny's sandwich and soup, I caught a glimpse of the lamb shank on the table next to mine. It looked darn good.

        Anyone ever tried it?

        12 Replies
        1. re: YourPalWill
          Vital Information

          Will, I do not get your analogy between AP and Manny's. AP uses a factory product as much as Manny's. Just because AP uses their own brand, whether they manufacture it or not is open for debate, it is still something made off site and heated at the store.

          I am curious if the AP's around town buy from the same source. I was the one that commented on the excess salt/chemical flavor of the AP corned beef. With my sandwich, there was no shortage of flavor, it was just a question of what flavor. In my case, it was a bad flavor.

          1. re: Vital Information

            I could very well be mistaken, VI. But given the texture and fat content of the AP, I was assuming that they had someone brining it for them and then cooking it in store.

            Given the leanness and texture of Vienna, I assume that it arrives at the deli pre-cooked.

            1. re: YourPalWill
              Ron Rosenbaum


              I was just looking over the Vienna catalogue. They offer an array of products with choices of weight, cut, spice or without, packaging, and choice of cooked or raw product. I don't think you can just assume that because its a restaurant advertises Vienna product, that its a pre cooked item.

              For example, under raw corned beef, you have a choice of small, medium, or large briskets as well as first cut briskets (no deckel), sold in configurations ranging from 45 lb. cases to 250 lb. kegs.

              There are even more options for cooked corned beef products to include eye of rounds, slicer ready (no trimming necessary?) and retail packs.

              No, I don't work on the side for Vienna.

              1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

                Thanks for educating me. Since you're a professional in the restaurant industry, do you think that Manny's cooks it's corned beef on site. My only visit was later in the afternoon and the temperature of the meat was around room temp. That's what led me to believe that I was eating a pre-cooked.

                Don't get me wrong, I liked Manny's. I just like AP better when you get it at its prime.

                1. re: YourPalWill
                  Ron Rosenbaum


                  No question about it. Manny's cooks their own corned beef daily. They do have a vehicle for utilizing leftovers however, which is their corned beef hash.

                  Get there early sometime and try it with poached eggs and a toasted bagel/bialy. They don't serve it during regular lunch hours.

          2. re: YourPalWill

            Possibly it was unfair of me to post a review of AP after only one visit, but, like I said, the sandwich I had yesterday was bland, fatty and textureless. I just read most of the AP reviews on Chowhound and it seems that we are all talking about a different place. The general Chowhound AP consensus is, overly salty/ not enough flavor/great flavor, perfect garlic/overspiced/too lean/too fatty/nice texture/horrid texture, mushy and one person thought it was the best in the Midwest.

            I think it is safe to say that consistency is not an area in which AP excels.

            If, in fact, AP Deli uses Kelly and Eisenberg corned beef they do not cure the corned beef themselves, as K & E is a manufacturer of corned beef similar, though not as large, as Vienna. Ron R also brought up an excellent point, Vienna, and likely K & E, sell a wide variety of corned beef products, some will be to your likening, and others may not. IMHO the very best corned beef available in the Chicago area is produced by ExCel on Lake Street, which sells wholesale only. ExCel’s corned beef is consistently tender and very flavorful.

            Yesterday must have been sandwich day, as for dinner my wife and I met a friend at Smith & Wollensky for burgers. The S & W burger, for $9.95, is one hell of a deal, a just about perfect burger, with excellent fries tossed in to add to the value. Thanks again to ReneG for first reviewing S & W’s burgers on Chowhound.

            I mentioned the S & W burger to a friend this morning and he, though he has not had the S & W burger, said his current favorite burger is Erwin on Halsted. Comments?

            I’ll link to my past S and W burger review.


            Smith & Wollensky
            318 N State St
            Chicago, IL 60610


            1. re: G Wiv

              S&W sounds like a great burger. Though I eat at Erwin around once a week, I have never had the burger. I'll make a point to try it and give you my feedback next week.

              1. re: G Wiv
                Ron Rosenbaum


                You've mentioned Excel corned beef before. Is this the one that you sometimes smoke? That picture of yours says it all. I'm still salivating.

                As you've pointed out, mishandling even a fine product will result in dreck. I've seen it thousands of times in various kitchens. You wouldn't believe some of the food I've had to trash over the years. But often the mistakes get served.

                Take Timmy's report on Broadway deli where he dissed Vienna corned beef. Perhaps thats because the operator buys a pre-cooked product, slices, weighs, and individually bags the product (to prevent the sandwich makers from giving away the store), and then the meat sits in the deli case for three days before it is sold.

                No wonder it's dry and flavorless.

                Take a good quality raw corned beef brisket, simmer it to just the right degree of doneness, and I don't care if it's Vienna, Excel, Sysco, Hebrew National, Ginsberg and ..., or Joe Shmo's,

                Good cooking is good cooking.

                1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

                  Ron Rosenbaum wrote:
                  "You've mentioned Excel corned beef before. Is this the one that you sometimes smoke?"


                  Most often I smoke Excel’s fresh brisket for Texas style BBQ, but on occasion I will buy the cured (raw) corned beef, soak it for 48-hours in few changes of water, apply a dry rub (fresh cracked pepper, coriander, garlic/onion powder, mustard seed, ancho powder and a few other secrets) and smoke for 7 or 8 hours. The result is like old-fashioned pastrami, smoky, spicy and delicious.

                  Excel also has, in addition to excellent corned beef, pickled tongue, every once in a great while I buy a tongue, simmer it, and slice for sandwiches. I have not tried smoking a pickled tongue as of yet, but I just may one of these days.



                  1. re: G Wiv

                    Great to hear that Ex-Cel is still pleasing palates! My dad, Bill Truver, was one of the original partners in Ex-Cel. He and his partner Clem Lahodie (sp?) always got high compliments from the restaurants and delis they sold to, and our church looked forward to the yearly donation of corned beef for the annual carnival. My dad retired in the lte 70s and died in 1984. It warms my heart to know his legacy continues.

                    -- elaine truver

                    1. re: G Wiv

                      Gary, this is a little off topic from corned beef, but going the the Ex-cel theme....I have been looking for a good place to buy Italian Beef with gravy, and Ex-cel advertises this on their website. Any idea how good it is? I went to a party one time and they had some really good italian beef, which they said they got at a place on Lake St, and I'm assuming it was Ex-Cel.....

                      1. re: G Wiv

                        OOPS....didn't realize how old this thread is....oh well.

                2. A few weeks ago I made my first and perhaps only trip to AP Deli (the Wabash branch). I agree with Gary, there’s simply no comparison with the corned beef at Manny’s. I don’t think my experience was quite as bad as Gary’s but it certainly was not a great sandwich. Mine had some garlic flavor but I can understand the comparison with Hormel canned meat. The standard "rye" bread was awful. I too did not bother to finish the sandwich.

                  I remember being surprised some years ago to find out that Manny’s really did use Vienna corned beef (I had assumed the Vienna sign was left over from an earlier era). Over the years I have had some very mediocre sandwiches made with Vienna corned beef and even the product served at the Vienna Beef Factory Cafeteria does not measure up to Manny’s. According to Gino, the corned beef guy at Manny’s, they get a custom product from Vienna and as Ron says they cook it themselves. Also before the brisket goes in the slicer it is expertly trimmed by Gino. All this clearly makes a difference.

                  Along with Ron I’ll put in a plug for the corned beef hash breakfast at Manny’s. For $3.99 you get a generous portion of hash topped with a couple poached eggs (often but not always perfectly done) and a good bagel, bialy, or whatever. The hash is rather light and fluffy, not the dense crispy style I usually prefer. Breakfast starts at 5am. Corned beef hash is also a Monday lunch special but I find the portion to be overwhelming and monotonous.

                  I’m sure everyone knows but just in case Manny’s (1141 S Jefferson) is open Mon-Sat from 5am to 4pm.

                  1. i like the corned beef at Manny's, but whenever i'm back in chicago, i go to Manny's and get an extra rare roast beef on an onion roll. there's nothing that compares. oh. and their pecan pie kinda makes me happy too.