OUT to LUNCH By David King
I took a road trip to explore the tiny delta town of Isleton, population 840ish, a colorful community located five miles beyond Rio Vista on Hwy 160. It offers visitors a glimpse of Asian-American history and some pretty decent food. I can attest to this, as I was lured into an Italian eatery called Manny’s Barzzeria.
Now, Isleton was once widely known for its “The Isleton Crawdad Festival” which ended in 2013. (It was called the Cajun Crawdad and Blues Festival in its final years.) For three decades this festival would bring in tens of thousands visitors to the town in one weekend to eat 25,000 pounds of crawdads.
Now a national historical landmark, it was once a booming town where large populations of Chinese and Japanese workers were involved with the operations of three canneries and a thriving tourist trade. In the late 19th century, folks ventured there on paddle boats from San Francisco to fill hotels that offered gambling, prostitution, and even an opium den.
While those amenities are long gone, there are a few eclectic antique stores, a fishing pier, and a couple of marijuana dispensaries to fill out the landscape along with several restaurants, including an alluring barzzeria. “What’s a barzzeria?” I pondered.
Manny’s Barzzeria is one of those places people say, “I wish it were located closer to where we live.” But the 18-mile trek across the Antioch Bridge is worth the journey. Owners Jaime and Esther Wence have created an Italian eatery where virtually every item on the menu seems special. It is no coincidence. Jaime’s uncle is none other than Gerardo Wence of Wences in Pleasant Hill. Just for starters, their garlic bread is a derivation of their pizza dough and baked to a crisp and delicious masterpiece. Manny’s pizzas rests on a unique thin crust which is crispy on the bottom and soft on top.
The first time going went there, I had The Isleton which is comprised of a thin pesto sauce covered by mozzarella-feta cheeses olives, red onion and perfectly grilled shrimp. The end result was totally amazing; resulting in a couple return visits to Manny’s.
Their specialty pizzas feature meat lover’s style MB’s Quatro Carni, Delta King, and Meat Amante. I especially enjoyed The Tuscan which is comprised of sausage, bacon, spinach, and tomato resting above a creamy garlic sauce. I also liked the De Parma which featured prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, red pepper flakes, and infused oregano olive covered by a balsamic glaze.
Manny’s also offers a couple of vegetarian pizzas including a traditional Margharita and the Mediterranean that utilizes sun -dried tomatoes, spinach, and feta cheese.
If this is not enough they serve made to order calzones. Their artichoke-Spinach with 4 cheeses drenched in pesto sauce, melts in your mouth. The meatball with marinara sauce is also outstanding. Talking about meatballs, Manny’s are top notch. They are flavorful yet not too heavy. Utilizing the recipe from Lucy’s, they can be found in various menu items
Served only on their dinner menu, their Italian pasta specialties match the quality of Manny’s pizza. Their lasagna (which takes 20 minutes preparation) is outstanding. They also have a truffle Mac and Cheese that sounds much like an item on the menu of Wence’s in Pleasant Hill. It is no coincidence Jamie’s uncle is none other than Gerardo Wence of that establishment.
My favorite pasta is Manny’s Pear and Cheese Fiocchi. Special noodles are covered by a creamy gorgonzola sauce blended with pancetta and pears to make up this signature dish.
This is exceptional Italian dining. Their menu of pizzas, calzones, Italian pasta specialties, and lasagna rival anywhere locally. It was amazing.
As you may have guessed by now, Manny’s also has a full bar that can be enjoyed inside or out on their beautiful appointed patio area; hence, the name Barzzeria. It is worth remembering.
Indeed, I returned to Manny’s for another visit, and I look forward to coming back to visit this gem again.
(Richard Eber assisted with this article)