At Manning's Pub & Grill, a cavernous Irish-themed sports pub, TV screens are wall-to-wall. What's playing on most of them is the week's big game. Between the amped-up basso profundo of the sportscaster and the cheers of the crowd, one wonders: Is it the floor that's vibrating or my insides?
Yet though the decibel level may be out of control, on one busy night, the kitchen is clearly in command. Chef de cuisine Paul Hanzel, cooking the repertoire of consulting chef Adam Goldgell, turns out a beautifully plated sampler platter on a shamrock-shaped wooden board. It holds crisp, comforting corned beef and cabbage egg rolls, meaty wings tossed with a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, crisp-moist chicken tenders, a warm, glossy pretzel and, for dipping, a hot cheese fondue and two mustards.
Contrast this to the situation of a quieter evening, when the place seems to be running on autopilot. Beef burger sliders with bacon jam come out virtually incinerated. And the "Sheila O'Hagan" chicken sandwich, which is supposed to feature garlic-marinated chicken on garlic bread, features dry, bland tidbits covered with melted cheese -- and not a hint of garlic.
So, yes, Manning's has its ups and downs. On the upside: Irresistible pigs in blankets. A lush mac and cheese. A bright spinach and arugula salad with grilled portobello mushrooms and apples. On the downside: bone-dry corned beef sliders. And a rather lackluster cheese and tomato bar pie.
The restaurant's moist, herbal turkey burger beats out an overcooked cheeseburger. Accompanying both are first-rate wedge fries, toasty-sweet and well-salted. And the house-made flaky-crusted chicken potpie scores highly. A close second is a satisfying "Thanksgiving dinner" of roast turkey breast, walnut stuffing and cranberry sauce. A real standout is the savory lamb and beef shepherd's pie served in an iron skillet and crowned with colcannon, creamy mashed potatoes laced with kale.
It's hard not to wonder whether a whiskey bread pudding would have hit the mark had it not been carelessly reheated. But a warm chocolate chip cookie, topped with ice cream, ends one dinner on a note of promise.