3815 N. Brookfield Road, Brookfield, WI 53045
QISA (4, 4, 4, 4), $11-18, Vegetarian
“Pleasant” is highly underrated.
Despite our general attempts to seek out pleasantness in our friends, our surroundings, and our weather, there remains an underlying assumption in pleasantness that anything pleasant, “lacks substance.” Our pleasant friend always has a smile on her face and a soft voice but most likely has little rattling behind her eyeballs. Pleasant weather is warm and sunny with little to no precipitation but also conforms to an accepted standard deviation of human comfort. Pleasant may be the absence of anything offensive, but in turn, it becomes the lack of anything consequential or substantial.
Or so I thought.
Café Manna is a pleasant little restaurant in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and I mean “pleasant” in the most complex, deliberate, and consequential way possible. From the moment you walk in, every sound, sight, and smell points you toward civility and tranquility. The music overhead is classical. The waitresses are friendly and quick to serve. The photos on the wall are colorful photographs of fruits and vegetables. Café Manna is genteel without being snooty, relaxed without being somnolent. Once night in college, after I had written one too many literary analyses, I wrote in an essay, “the apparent simplicity is proof of its inherent complexity." It was my way of telling the teacher to stick it up her nose. However, at Café Manna, this statement rings true without any irony.
When you visit, and I hope that you do, I recommend that you order one of Zhena’s Gypsy Teas instead of wine or beer. The artisan teas include exotic flavors such as Lemon Jasmine, Brazilian Berry, and Rose Mint, among others. I opted for the Coconut Chai, a calming mix of black tea, cinnamon, clove, and coconut. It was unbelieving exquisite. And relaxing. And pleasant.
The cup of Middle Eastern Stew was more a yellow curry than what I think of as Middle Eastern. The soup was a yellow creamy turmeric broth with garbanzo and cannellini beans, potatoes, root vegetables, and spinach leaves. It was tasty without being spicy.
The Café Manna Burger was a Jamaican jerk lentil patty topped with spiced aioli, tender greens, red onion, and tomato. I expected a spicier jerk sauce, but keeping with the “pleasant” theme, the burger was relatively mild, good but not fantastic. The chef’s special vegetables, however, were unbelievable. Rarely do I wax poetic about steamed carrots and celery, but these were steamed just till fork tender and cooked with garlic and peppers to give them zest and spice. These were not pleasant vegetables. These were “sit down and stop talking, Dad’s in the zone, I said hush” vegetables.
The meal came with a complementary side of cashew and carrot hummus with whole grain pita chips. I am guessing the hummus was a raw food creation because I can’t think of any other reason to adulterate or recreate hummus. However, having said that, the cashew spread (I can not call it hummus for “religious” reasons) had a nice, if not pleasant, consistency and flavor. The chips had a good crunch and boasted much more integrity than store-bought pita chips.
The lemon curd tart I ordered for dessert had a morally superior almond flour crust. The crust, as expected, was courser and denser than a standard flour crust, but the curd tasted like standard sweet lemon curd, and I am a big, big fan of lemon curd.
Café Manna is a restaurant best shared with a friend, family member, or lover. Share a pot of tea together, comment on the classical music, admire the fresh ingredients, discuss the relative merits of raw and cooked foods, argue about politics, plan a little mischief, and maybe even conspire to overthrow a small Central American government.
Just be civil about it, y’all.