When we moved to North Carolina, one of the first things I wanted to do was find some new stomping grounds. There were some great bars and restaurants that became like a second home in the cities I’ve lived in, and two years later, I still miss them. Manchester’s Grill (9101 Leesville Road, Raleigh, 27613) is one place though that has slowly become of my haunts. It’s not hip or fashion forward, but it has great food, great drinks, and a regular set of characters sitting at the bar.
The restaurant is set up into two separate sections,; the bar area, where its more casual, and the dining room. On a Friday or Saturday night, you can expect to find a waiting line of hungry families hoping to get one of Manchester’s “Chicago-style” pizzas. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Chicago, I think of deep dish pizza; a gooey mess, with toppings piled on top of each other. Not a fan at all. Instead, Manchester’s pizza is a thin-crust, the crust is nicely flavored and doesn’t overwhelm the toppings. A personal favorite is the Napoli, with Asiago cheese, banana peppers, and prosciutto.It’s the perfect mix of cheesy, spicy, and savory.
While Manchester’s focuses on classic bar food, think burgers, ribs, and assorted sandwiches, keep a close on the daily special. I had a crusted salmon dish there once that would seem more at home at Michael Dean’s or The Mint than a bar and grill. The chefs are a motley crew, but they have their technique down pat. Even something as simple as seared tuna on a bed of greens is a real treat there.
While the drafts on tap aren’t plentiful, they do show off Carolina’s best brews. Manchester’s was the first place where I had a pint of Big Boss Bad Penny, a dark chocolatey ale that quickly won my heart. Plus, the bartenders are attentive and much to my surprise, remembered my favorites after one or two visits. My one complaint would be their extensive but pricey martini list, which sticks out like a sore thumb. There are some places where I could see paying $8.00 for a chocolate martini (ok, maybe I can’t see me ordering it, blech), but this is not that kind of place.
That brings me to the main reason why I love it there. Everyone wants to be a regular somewhere; watching “Cheers” growing up, I loved Norm (ok, maybe I don’t want his liver….or his physique…..maybe Diane was a better role model?). He had a place where he could walk in and everyone knew him. I know this reeks of irony coming from a web blog, but it’s nice to think of a real-life place where you’re always welcome. You can always count on a debate about sports or whatever news story pops up on the TV at the bar. Even the owner, who has a million other more important things on his mind, remembers that I hate cucumbers on my salads there without me ever saying a word about it.
So, will Manchester’s replace my former loves; the pizza place with an eclectic jukebox and pints of stout, the indie diner that served nouvelle cuisine along side tater tots, the bar with the gruff but sweet Jesse Ventura lookalike owner? Nah, but it is a place in Raleigh that feels like home.