Corned Beef and Cactus: TC Jewfolk Reviews Palm Springs' "Manhattan in the Desert"

Manhattan in the Desert

With Passover quickly approaching us, we are reminded of our Jewish forefathers and their long tenure in the desert. For reasons unclear to me (sort of like the great tattoo paradox), the Jews of Minneapolis are on a perpetual exodus back to the desert. For several months out of the year, Palm Springs and its surrounding cities are flooded with Jews in Twins caps trying to escape the never-ending Minnesota winter.
I’m currently on my first pilgrimage to the Southern California desert – a favorite winter destination for generations of my wife’s family (from Minneapolis and elsewhere). A few thousand years have passed since we were all banished to the desert – and now its payback time. Even the big synagogue here is named Temple Sinai.
Everywhere we’ve been, we bump into someone from the TC. The license plates in the parking lots lean heavily to California of course, but there are more Minnesotas than most other states. And then there are the delis.
You’ve heard me whine about our deli despair in the TC. You’ve anxiously awaited the winner of the Chopped Liver Pa-Looza. And you’ve certainly argued whether any deli can be considered Jewish if it’s not kosher.
So, on an uncharacteristically chilly and rainy day (in the desert remember; 82 and sunny in Minneapolis that day), I found myself at Manhattan in the Desert.
Locally known as Manhattan’s, this Jewish deli is now owned by one of our own. Minneapolis Jew Jamie Pinto recently bought the place, renovated the interior, and revamped the menu. We knew we were in the right place when we ran into our first family member while ogling the rugelach. Other things that quickly caught my eye included the posted Passover menu, the smell of deli, and a crowd that was nearly indistinguishable from the Oak Ridge dining room.
And now to the food. Over two visits, I tried the following and am happy to report that Manhattan’s certainly passes the test:

Mish Mash

Matzoh ball soup: One of the better deli soups I’ve had. After eating (and then reproducing) my grandma’s soup my entire life, my standards are pretty high. This is a really good bowl. Matzoh ball was almost perfect as well. 9 out of 10.
Cold Borscht: I rarely order this, but in the desert, I wanted something cold and light. Seriously good stuff and a vivid reminder of my grandma’s house. Plus I didn’t stain my shirt. 9 out of 10.
Fried Kreplach: The meat is overwhelmed by a puff pastry-like dough. Served with an oddly generic brown gravy and caramelized onions. Not quite what I was looking for. 3 out of 10.
Chopped Liver: The consistency was right on, but it lacked flavor. I’m thinking they didn’t use actual schmaltz. It also needed more onions and salt. 5 out of 10.

Big Ass Knish

Knish: Easily the biggest knish I have ever seen and at $6.99, the most pricy. It was essentially a heaping portion of mashed potatoes in a pastry dough and impossible to eat with your hands. Taste was fine, but not so easy to eat. 5 out of 10.
Corned Beef: Sliced thin, piled high, and served warm. The only problem is the bread – delicious, but unable to withstand the rigors of the meat and its juices. The sandwich completely fell apart after the first bite. 7 out of 10.
Turkey: Roasted in-house and delicious. Same story with the bread. 8 out of 10.
Blintzes: Almost perfect and served with fresh California strawberries. Light crepes with a sweet cheese filling. 9 out of 10.

Bakery Case

Black & White cookies: My wife, the expert, was unimpressed and highly disappointed. I didn’t even bother to taste. By proxy, 1 out of 10.
Bagels: Whatever these things are, they’re definitely not bagels. Basically they’re rolls with holes in the middle. Sadly, I was optimistic and bought a half dozen. 2 out of 10.
Perfect? Nope. But the menu is huge with all of the things you’d expect to see and it feels like a deli. Manhattan in the Desert wouldn’t cut the mustard in Manhattan, but it certainly would almost anywhere else.
Now that I know where to get my deli fix in the desert, I might have to start playing some golf. Happy Gilmore watch out.