Brightening the walls of my home office are photographs from some of my Destination Idaho stories, a drawing by Statesman artist Patrick Davis – and a watercolor painting of an old cafe.
Why the cafe?
Easy. It’s Manley’s.
Everyone who remembers Manley’s remembers it fondly. It was a local treasure. And soon the site of the little cafe with the big reputation will become Boise’s newest park.
Terry Day Park, on Federal Way just east of Protest, will open June 5. Initially it will be a grassy area with a pond, a walking path, trees and a small parking area. Future additions will include a playground, restrooms, tennis courts and a larger parking lot off of Overland Road.
The late Terry Day was a longtime Boisean known for volunteer work. gardening and love of tennis. She and her husband, Pat, lived in the house next door to Manley’s, where Pat, 88, still lives today. The Day family donated land and money for the eight-acre park, and Day also has donated his home to be used as a community center there after his death.
“It will be a great thing for the city,” park development coordinator Kelly Burrows said. “We’ll have a new neighborhood park in a part of town that really needs one. A new park on the Bench has been a priority, and the Manley’s connection is a nice bonus.”
For those who missed it, Manley’s was more than a cafe. To look at it, you wouldn’t have guessed that. For that matter, you probably would have driven by without stopping. It was just a little white building, old and borderline shabby, with faded paint a patina of grease.
But the food!
Or rather, the enormity of the food. Not that it wasn’t good, because it was, but the portions were legendary. If you wanted fancy food, you went somewhere else. If you wanted plain but tasty food – and lots of it – you went to Manley’s.
Its founder and longtime proprietor was W. Manley Morrow, an old-time chef and avid carnivore who prided himself on selecting the best meats, cured and aged to perfection. He opened the cafe in the early 1950s as Manley’s Rose Garden. In those days, it actually had a rose garden. One of my earliest memories is of dining there with my parents, enjoying the world’s best hamburgers at picnic tables surrounded by beautiful roses.
Good as they were, though, it wasn’t burgers that made Manley’s famous. Its tours de force were prime rib and pie a’la mode, served in eye- and stomach-popping portions.
Pat Day, who knew Morrow well, said he was “raised on a farm, and when he started the restaurant there were a lot of farmers in and around Boise. I think that was the basis of those huge portions. Farmers worked hard and ate big meals. He cooked that way for them and because that’s the way he was raised.”
Manley’s prime-rib dinners draped over the edges of the platters on which they were served – and they were big platters. For a couple of extra bucks, you could order prime rib for two – a larger portion (as if it was necessary) with an extra plate. Even a single portion was more than enough for two people. You ate until you couldn’t eat any more, and took the rest home for dinner the next night.
The pie was homemade, scrumptious. And, like everything else at Manley’s, the size of the servings never failed to elicit “oohs” and “aahs.” Imagine a quarter of a pie topped with half a quart of ice cream and you’ll have the right mental image – old-fashioned pies with rounded crusts and fat with fillings, the kind your great grandmother used to make.
Locals loved to take out-of-town visitors to Manley’s and watch their eyes bulge. Rumor had it that Jascha Heifetz, the violin virtuoso, agreed to return to Boise for a second performance just to eat at Manley’s again.
When Calvin Trillin, then the New Yorker’s food reviewer, came to town to research one of his U.S. Journal stories and was using the archives at The Statesman, we took him to Manley’s for lunch. His eyes widened as he took in the broken screen door, worn linoleum and greasy everything. Then he smiled and confided that he wasn’t a native New Yorker, let alone a food snob. He was a Kansas City native who loved honest, unpretentious food.
“Every town I go to, they take me to the restaurant in the glass ball on the top floor of the tallest building in town,” he said. “The prices are outrageous, and the food is awful. This place is great!”
To the dismay of its many fans, Manley’s closed in 1997. Morrow’s wife, Marge, ran the cafe after he died. Then their son ran it briefly and sold it to two of its waitresses, who ran it into the ground. The cafe that had brought so much enjoyment to so many was demolished not long afterwards.
Soon after that, the mail brought me a unique gift – the watercolor painting of Manley’s. It was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten the artist’s name, but I’ll always be grateful to him. He did the painting during the restaurant’s last days, after it had closed but before it was knocked down – a measure of its impact. How many doomed cafes have artists painting them?
Day still has the wooden Manley’s sign that greeted its customers.
“We hope to incorporate it into the design of the park,” Burrows said.
A great idea. It would be even better if the design included a plaque or a sign telling the Manley’s story. Too often our beloved institutions fade from the scene and are forgotten. Manley’s deserves to be remembered.
“An interpretive sign would be a good thing,” Burrows said. “Manley’s hasn’t been available to the public for a long time, but that way people could come to the park and experience it in a new way.”