Prior to moving to St. Louis, I lived in a small, cramped studio apartment in New York City. While New York brings to mind some of the best restaurants and cuisine in the US, I unwisely chose to live on the Upper West Side, conveniently located to work.
No doubt, the Upper West Side has blossomed over the last decade in terms of restaurant selection, and it’s certainly not the culinary wasteland that it once was, but while cozy brunch spots and bakeries serving warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies abound, the area still lacks good hole in the wall restaurants serving food that is both cheap and delicious.
Instead, when you’re looking for a quick and easy meal and aren’t in the mood for a Gray’s Papaya hot dog, you usually end up ordering from a restaurant that specializes in generic pasta, pizza and sandwiches, and while New York City may be famous for their pizza, we aren’t talking about Brooklyn quality pizza here. The pizza is not only 100% mediocre (Exception: Patsy’s), but even a personal size plain pizza will cost you upwards of $10 – pretty much my idea of a food nightmare (still beats the UWS Chinese food, however).
It should come as no surprise then that I managed to live just down the street from Manhattan Express, a tiny St. Louis cafe serving pizza, pasta and sandwiches, for almost 4 months before I ever even considered entering. While I’m sure the name is meant to invoke images of wide, thin, foldable pizza slices, their name and menu just sent shivers down my spine as I remembered all the generic little shops serving pricey and tasteless UWS pizza.
Well, one night I was desperate for convenient food and found my kitchen empty, so I headed over there. Prices here are pretty reasonable – 9″ personal pizzas start off at $6.50, 12″ pizzas at $8.50 (vs. Imo’s $9.55), and 16″ pizzas at $11.50 (vs. Imo’s $13.95). Pastas are all $6.25, and sandwiches are all under $8.
They also have a few specials like a small one topping pizza + side salad for $8.95 and a small Margherita pizza + side salad for $9.95. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised and have been back several times since.
Check out the review after the jump!
Manhattan Express offers a variety of pizza options – you’ve got your St. Louis style thin crust with provel cheese, New York style pizza pie with mozzarella and a whole wheat crust option for the health conscious. So far I’ve stuck with the classic Margherita Pizza and small salad special when I’ve been in the pizza mood.
The Margherita Pizza comes with a very thin crust that is more substantial than the St. Louis cracker thin crust but firmer and not fluffy or bread-like enough to be quality New York Style thin crust. This is my go to pizza for when I’m in the mood for something extremely fresh and light, a mood I’m in often during the summer. There’s no tomato sauce on this pizza, just a hint of olive oil covering the dough, a very thin layer of mozzarella, earthy bits of basil and a generous scattering of thick, robust Roma tomatoes. They are a little heavy handed on the garlic so I wouldn’t recommend this pizza right before a first date, and I do keep the salt and pepper shaker handy to add a little extra flavor, though I do this with all food items involving fresh tomatoes. The last time I ordered this, however, they went way overboard on the garlic, so I think I may switch it up and try their New York Style pizza (though I do have a feeling it won’t be a close replica). Either way, nine times out of ten, they do the Margherita justice.
The small salad is actually quite large and comes with iceberg and romaine lettuce, red onions, diced pimentos, and grated Parmesan and provolone cheeses, plus a side of their house vinaigrette dressing. The salad is reminiscent of Imo’s but the greens are fresher, the cheese is a step up from Provel and it has a few welcomed additions. Their vinaigrette, however, isn’t quite as flavorful and tangy as Imo’s.
Another favorite menu item, and DJGel’s go-to item, is the seasoned beef sandwich, which comes with a good size portion of lean roast beef and melted provel on toasted garlic bread with a side of au jus (extra for grilled peppers and onions). You don’t need to keep the salt and pepper shaker handy for this one. Their au jus is extremely flavorful, and probably not for those who are not a fan of salty things, but when I’m craving something salty, I find this sandwich just hits the spot. Sandwiches are a little pricey at $7.50 – $8, but each comes with a bag of chips (and pickle wedge), something you don’t see often enough at sandwich shops. If you’re a fan of Sun Chips, ask them to sub them in for whatever the default chips usually are (Lays, I believe).
All in all, I’d take Manhattan Express over generic Upper West Side Manhattan pizza, pasta and sandwiches any day. Brooklyn pizza, however, is another story.