Manny’s vs. Valois: Who is Supreme in Chicago Campaign Cuisine?

By JoshMogerman in Food on Nov 27, 2010 8:00PM

As if Thanksgiving dinner was not enough of a gut buster, we took our annual family visit to Manny’s Deli yesterday. The line out the door was witness to this growing post-turkey tradition in the City. It was a pretty standard visit---corned beef, kreplach soup, knish---with one notable exception: not a single notable politician in the room.

Just two weeks before, we saw David Axelrod at the next table over in Chicago’s most venerated place for pols to be seen. That’s no surprise, since he apparently has a framed photo of the deli in his White House office. And last week Governor Quinn and Senator Brady held their public post-election “sandwich summit” over Manny’s celebrated corned beef.

But lately, it is hard to ignore the fact that another old school, cafeteria-style restaurant is muscling into Manny’s politico limelight. After Rahm Emanuel submitted signatures for his mayoral campaign, he wasn't celebrating at Manny's. Instead, he took volunteers to Hyde Park for lunch at Valois Restaurant. The restaurant's growing cred was part of the reasoning for Chicago News Cooperative’s James Warren to suggest it as an essential stop on the listening tour for the soon-to-be candidate to re-connect with Chicagoans. And, of course, Valois is only a few blocks from the President’s house. He pops in there often---including a much-photographed pre-election visit with Quinn and Alexi Giannoulious .

With Obama in the White House, former Hyde Park alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle heading to the County Building, and mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun living just a few blocks away, Valois is in the thick of shifting political power in the City. Judging from the growing number of South Side lunch photo ops, candidates are clearly paying attention. So, is a shake up underway in the political gastronomy scene?

Both restaurants serve comfort food that appeal to all segments of Chicago, regardless of race or class. As a result, the clientele for both is perfect for “man of the people” shots with every kind of person present in the background: from Streets and San workers next to beat cops to Governors and CEOs. Given some of the City’s cultural lines, that is a rare and valuable thing. But we think Manny’s longer history, central location in the South Loop, and fantastic food will keep it on tops for visible vittles. Plus, Valois' policy of only taking cash offers up some too-easy-to-resist one-liners that smart Chicago pols will avoid...

Of course, there are other options. Scott Lee Cohen has chosen some interesting alternatives. And despite the beloved SNL props and the recent Giannoulias-Kirk make-up beer at the Billy Goat Tavern under Michigan Avenue, we just don’t see anything unseating Manny’s and Valois any time soon.