by Evan Hatch
The Southside neighborhood in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, stands as a prime example of successful urban revitalization. Historic homes line the landscape, interspersed with historic businesses and combined commercial/residential properties. Urban planning experts often cite Southside as an example of renewal done right. A 2003 winner of the National Planning Award for Implementation from the American Planning Association, Southside is located a short five-minute walk from the downtown business district. Yet hungry Southside residents do not need to leave the neighborhood to eat well.
Manny’s Universal Cafe stands on a corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and is one of the successful examples of the live-work businesses in Southside. Owners Margarita and Manny Delgado relocated from New York, NY around 2005. The mother and son team opened Manny’s Universal in 2006. Manny’s presently working on other ventures, and Ms. Delgado now runs the business, ably assisted by her beautiful mother.
Breakfast and lunch plates are the most popular offerings. Healthful salads, smoothies and sandwiches populate Manny’s menu. The food emerging from the kitchen is fresh and colorful. Ms. Delgado believes in preparing healthy food for her customers and views this as commitment and service to her neighborhood. Great care is taken in food preparation and presentation, and Manny’s Universal is best enjoyed without time constraint.
Hidden among the more standard menu choices, near the bottom, are chicken hot tamales and pupusas served with spicy cabbage. These traditional foods nod to Margarita’s Central American roots. Ms. Delgado is originally from El Salvador, and she brought with her a healthy taste of place, evidenced in these amazing entrees. The tamales, wrapped and tied carefully with banana leaves, are edible gifts from Ms. Delgado’s kitchen. In addition to steaming, Margarita gives the tamales time in the oven, baking a spicy, whole corn flavor into them. They are Margarita Delgado’s specialty, and should be eaten on every trip to Manny’s Universal. The pupusas are also incredible, fritters stuffed with black beans and pork, and served with a cool cabbage slaw with hard-hitting vinegar bite. The cabbage counters the richness of the dish, and pupusas and savory black beans make an amazing meal.
On pretty days, customers can enjoy Manny’s sunny patio, and feast surrounded by Margarita Delgado’s many flower-pot gardens. On a recent visit, Margarita’s garden boasted new sprouts of cilantro that will someday grace a lucky person’s plate. Manny’s Universal Cafe is a great treat, a surprise that can turn around a bad day. Great surprises often hide in plain sight. Sometimes in unlikely places. Manny’s Universal Cafe is no exception.
I first heard about Manny’s Universal from Donovan McKnight, a food lover
and champion of Greensboro’s urban landscapes. He is also a contributor to
Ethnosh, a food/culture/website/movement. Check it out for great writings
on food and culture. www.ethnosh.org