There’s a little spot on Main Street in Daphne that has outlasted most businesses in our area, including old Mobile. It’s a locals’ spot, but has enough of a reputation that well-informed tourists are liable to stop by on their way through town. Famously known for decades for its Bloody Mary and, er, fig leaf, Manci’s Antique Club is a Baldwin County treasure.
What started out in the 1920s as a gas station built on an aged produce warehouse eventually became a full-fledged bar before they began serving po’boys and burgers in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that this Bloody Mary capital of the Eastern Shore caught my attention.
I first took a fancy to Manci’s way back then during a crawfish season, where we’d buy plates of mudbugs and, if I remember correctly, pitchers of beer. There was a lot of beer flowing in those days. I recall an evening with Venisa and Mike LeSerra, my two Yankee transplants who took me to the club for a night on the town. It was then that I learned about the fig leaf.
What’s that, you say? Well, if you promise not to tell, in the women’s restroom there is a fig leaf that covers a certain part of Adam’s anatomy. Maybe I am painting this place as too much of an adult spot, but truthfully it’s all good, clean fun. Manci’s is as easy going and family oriented as you could hope for, with outdoor seating and a dining room that doesn’t feel cramped. I’d have no trouble bringing my boys here.
The past couple of years have brought about changes for the Olde Towne Daphne watering hole. The club was sold to restaurateurs Harry Johnson (formerly of Bluegill fame as well as others) and John Thompson of Callaghan’s. The idea was to keep the Manci atmosphere and Bloody Marys but add in Callaghan’s food and live music.
It gave off the idea that we were about to have a “Callaghan’s East” on our hands. This was an investigation that could most suitably be carried out with Mr. Bubble.
One evening when the planets aligned and we were able to sneak away from work a little early we found ourselves in a little booth next to the tea pitchers at the Antique Club. Not too much has changed except that there isn’t nearly as much stuff as there used to be, and there was an obvious spot for a band to set up.
When the menus came we were delighted to find house cabernet and gin and tonics ($3 each) at happy hour prices. The food, however, did not look like the Callaghan’s menu. Sure, there are chips with French onion dip, smoked tuna dip and hamburgers, but the similarities end there.
The first thing you notice about Manci’s kitchen is that there is a fryer. Saints be praised, we have wanted fries with our Callaghan’s burger for so long. Now we have that opportunity. Other sandwiches made the cut and the complete menu couldn’t fit on a small table plaque the way they do it in Oakleigh.
Bubble was beaming when I ordered a round of loaded fries ($7.95). These are the torpedo fries, which I don’t hate, smothered in cheese with bacon and jalapeños and topped with sour cream. You will find this dish is not small. That style of French fry is sturdy and can take a load of toppings. Trust me, you get it. Bubble took a good portion home to his family.
The blackened mahi-mahi with Conecuh sounded good but Bubble’s eyes were fixed on the cutely named Pig Bird Po-boy ($11.95). Of course this has Conecuh sausage and a grilled chicken breast but the intensity comes from the bleu cheese and barbecue sauce.
Served on a Gambino loaf, I would say this sandwich has staying power, except when Bubble is around. He plowed through that as only he could — like a man. With sauce in his beard and fingers a bit messy, he dove into the accompanying potato salad which we believe to be different from Cally’s. This one may have had a little ranch dressing in the mix; not that it was bad, it was just its own thing.
An insider told me the Crispy Shrimp Wrap ($10.95) was the way to go. Heeding the call, I was more than happy to give it a shot. It is not the shrimp that are crispy, as the moniker may mislead. The shellfish are indeed grilled. French onion crisp add the crunch to this one. With tomato relish, lettuce and Thai chili sauce this tortilla is loaded with good things which make for a meal that is a little on the sweet side. After the fries and the side salad with bleu cheese I wasn’t about to make myself miserable by eating this entire thing so I settled on half.
The Manci’s menu is not what I was expecting. The portions are large, the prices are not bad and they definitely have their own identity. But for the sake of the argument, Mr. Bubble and I left after paying our tab and headed straight for Callaghan’s.
It was there we knocked back a couple of beers with local celebs, watched a little preseason football and harassed our waitress, Whitney, as we argued over who should tip more. It was good to be home again, and it reminded us that Callaghan’s is still Callaghan’s. There is smartly only one. Manci’s Antique Club is smartly still its own thing, as I would smartly not drive across the bay for what I have in my backyard. But you may take the Causeway to find they have a lot to offer in their own right.
Oh, by the way, that second half of my wrap hit the spot as midnight drew nigh.
Manci’s Antique Club
1715 Main St.
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