HIDDEN MANNA CAFE has thee BEST dam catfish, grits and sangria that I’ve ever tasted. This hidden gem is the place to go if you’re looking for an intimate dining experience where the food is plenty and the prices are reasonable. Located in what is called the Old Matteson, 3616 W. 216th Street, Matteson, Illinois. As we enter the restaurant, we are greeted with a rug that states “we hug here” and I know this is where I’m supposed to be. The ambience is serene and the mood is intimate in this quaint restaurant known as Hidden Manna Café. My 12 y/o notices the pebbles and shiny floor design upon entrance. We are greeted by the owners Glynnis, with a hug, and Mark with his huge smile. We’re seated at a table in the corner while the smooth sounds of jazz play in the background. Every other Saturday evening they feature a live jazz band, I automatically feel relaxed. The table next to us is knee deep in their liter of sangria and food – I thought the gentleman was going to swallow his fork. Our waitress, Tina, is friendly as can be and radiates kindness through her warm smile. She greets my 6 y/o and I can immediately tell that she has children, because when she speaks he raises his head from his game to return the smile and gives his order.
Funny but true story: I don’t like to put sauce on my food unless I’ve eaten it before, because it can ruin the entire meal. So, I requested everything separate the grits, catfish and sauce. Our meal came and there was a bowl with the sauce, the catfish which was golden and fried to perfection, none of that slimy stuff or fishy smell and two (2) square golden brown pieces of bread, so I thought. I take the spoon and test a bit of the sauce to make sure I would like it and my belly said it’s a go! The sauce tasted sweet and a bit spicy, the texture was a bit gritty, but overall delicious. I kept thinking in my mind that something was missing but it still taste good. We are enjoying our meal and when I tell you it was the bomb.com- that doesn’t do it justice. As I’m halfway done with eating the bowl of grits and sauce I say, “Tina, are the grits mixed in with the sauce?” She was laughing and said, “No, those are your grit cakes over there.” Chile, I thought it was bread! I ate a half bowl of just sauce, that’s like eating a half bottle of ketchup – the way my inner fat girl and that lush demon always creep up on me, just loose me Satan. The picture was after the meal and sangria – don’t judge my pudge – I ate good!
Both, Mark and Glynnis, come and have a seat at the table with us. I say to Glynnis there is something comforting about this place, she smiles and replied, “that is the presence of God.” It was approximately one year into the restaurant business, they spoke about closing their doors due to the mental and financial strain. They began to question if this was their calling, but as Mark was acquiring a response from God regarding their direction – Glynnis received a phone call from Chicago’s Best. “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” Proverbs 24:3-4. Mark believes before we can fully ask HE will always answer, the key is to listen and obey.
Q: How did the Hidden Manna Café come to fruition? A: It was 2010 and reading the word of God. This place needed a lot of work and it took three (3) years to do the apartment upstairs, but here we are. The name Manna is food of the Bible.
Q: At what point did you realize through food you can create meaningful connections? A: When we opened the doors. People told us it was a blessing to come here, it’s like a ministry of sorts. The ultimate goal was to create a place where we can come and talk to the Lord.
Q: What are your go to meals to make a stellar first impression? A: The number one seller, since day 1, has been the shrimp and grits. Our family is from New Orleans, but we like to try different things out. So we created the catfish and grits special, also.
Q: To keep the menu creative do you have a favorite food trend? A: Our main trend is creole and comfort, not your traditional southern food.
Q: Any advice you wish someone would have given you before opening? Glynnis: I wish we had more mentors who were familiar with the restaurant industry. We’ve learned a lot along the way and it’s an interesting journey, but we are still learning. If you don’t have the mindset and no one tells or shows you it can be quite difficult to comprehend. We have each other, we are a team, it isn’t a business I want to do by myself.
As I sip on the sweet Sangria, I hear faint chatter but mainly the sounds of utensils hitting plates. The wait was not long and business is steady on this cold Saturday afternoon. I believe food is a form of art and presentation is very much key, but the smell can take you to a place that vision alone can’t. When you are ready to experience food for the soul, HIDDEN MANNA CAFE is the place to be because the food is delicious and the hugs are free. Be sure to say hi to Mark and Glynnis.
Keys to Success:
- Commitment to the Commandments
- Giving back: They hire staff in need of a second chance
- Read the bible together
- They are a team
- Balance is key