All-American Diner Tour: Longway’s Diner in Watertown, New York

Located at the intersection of State Routes 37 and 342 several miles north of Watertown, New York, Longway’s Diner is a greasy spoon catering primarily to interstate truckers and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum.

Longway’s has plenty of booth and counter space, although the booths are tightly packed. On multiple visits, the food has been consistently good. Everything is served together–home fries, eggs, toast, sausage or bacon, all on the same plate, giving it that greasy, uniform flavor. Like most 24-hour establishments, people come here after a night of drinking to settle their stomachs with a nice heavy meal. During the day, it’s more of a family place.

There are a few motels, auto shops, and gas stations nearby, so not much to see and do. Patrons mainly stop in as they’re passing through the area.

There are no surprises or custom items on Longway’s menu, just typical diner fare. The menu is simple and easy to understand. Breakfast is tiered, with eggs and French toast listed in increasing increments (1 Egg… $1.49. 2 Eggs… $2.39. 3 Eggs… $3.29. Etc). Generic sides, like meat, home fries, and home fries and meat, are carefully listed beneath each item. I imagine this was done deliberately to make ordering with a hangover easier.

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All-American Diner Tour: Julie’s Diner in North Syracuse, New York

Located off Brewerton Road (US Highway 11) at the terminus of Airport Boulevard just outside the Syracuse Hancock International Airport in North Syracuse, New York, Julie’s is a modern diner with a fresh, contemporary style. Their motto is “We dish it out, you gotta take it!” (Not sure what that’s supposed to mean…)

Julie’s was crowded when a friend and I visited. We sat at the small counter (5 to 6 seats at most) and both had their signature waffles. I also got a side of raisin toast. I don’t know if blueberries were just out of season, but the blueberry topping they used seemed old and the berries were tiny. The waffle was good though. The diner was clean and the wait staff was friendly, despite the rush.

Julie’s is only open until 2:30 p.m., so breakfast is its primary focus. Without a doubt, people come here for the waffles. They are served Belgian style with several different fruit toppings, or just powdered sugar.

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All-American Diner Tour: Knotty Pine Diner in Wampsville, New York

Located along Genesee Street (Route 5) just west of Oneida, New York, the Knotty Pine is a rustic, country-style diner. It sits in the heart of a historic area with lots to see and do, including the Oneida Community Mansion House, Turning Stone Casino, and Boxing Hall of Fame.

I liked the atmosphere and decor at the Knotty Pine. There is counter seating, booths, and plenty of table space for larger groups. I ordered the Knotty Pine Breakfast Combo, which as you can see from the above photo, is enough for one person but you won’t have any leftovers. I also had a Diet Coke (of course), and my total came to $11.10. My eggs were well done, not runny, just the way I like them. On my visit they were offering a special omelet, spicy ham and pepperoni with hash browns.

TVs were displaying the local news at a reasonable volume.

Breakfast is served at the Knotty Pine until 11:30 a.m. They have two custom breakfast items: the Knotty Pine Big Breakfast, featuring two eggs served on home fries with ham, peppers, onions, and Texas toast for $7.99, and the Knotty Pine Breakfast Combo, featuring two eggs, two pieces of toast, two slices of bacon or sausage links, and two pancakes for $7.99. Both standard diner specials.

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All-American Diner Tour: Magic’s Diner in Felts Mills, New York

Located along State Route 3 between Felts Mills and Great Bend, New York, Magic’s Diner (formerly Magic’s Golden Unicorn) is a country-style diner known for its “Mountain Challenge” and is a favorite of soldiers from nearby Fort Drum.

According to their Facebook page, Magic’s Golden Unicorn opened in November 2014. It rebranded as Magic’s Diner in May 2016, but retained the same menu and staff. The “Mountain Challenge” consists of two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausages, toast, home fries, and two 32 oz buttermilk pancakes (4 lbs!) for $13.95. As of writing this, only eight people have successfully eaten the entire meal.

In terms of food quality, my several visits to this diner have been a mixed bag. On one visit, I ordered a ham and cheese omelet and it was runny and undercooked, but the potatoes were well done. On another, I ordered one extra-large “challenge” pancake and a side of bacon, which was more than I could handle. The pancake was thick and tasted great. A friend told me he was inspired by my effort and also hoped to eat a big pancake in the future. The service has always been good. Their waitresses are friendly and helpful.

On Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. they offer a breakfast buffet and hold a “cruise in” for classic cars, imports, and motorcycles on Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time was almost a spiritual experience. In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and elsewhere. While the Badlands and Devils Tower were visually magnificent, Mount Rushmore really left an impression on me. Two-dimensional media just can’t convey its size and grandeur. Photographs don’t do it justice.

Mount Rushmore, in the South Dakota Black Hills, is known as a batholith–a formation of igneous rock formed from cooled magma. The rock is smooth, fine-grained granite, resistant to erosion. Between 1927 and 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60 foot carvings. Gutzon died in March 1941, and his son Lincoln took over construction. It finished prematurely in late October 1941 due to lack of funding.

The sculptures were originally supposed to extend further down, uncovering the presidents’ chests and shoulders. I think the faces peering from the mountainside look better, and apparently the National Park Service agrees. With over two million visitors annually, they could probably get the funds to finish the sculptures if they wanted. It costs $10 to park, but that fee goes toward maintaining the parking garage.

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Devil’s Tower National Monument

In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and many other cool places. Devil’s Tower was our last stop. That region defines “wide open spaces.” In eastern Montana, the vast prairie rolls into the Black Hills. Jutting from the undulating landscape, a volcano tens-of-millions of years old left this cone of solidified magma when the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. You can see it for miles around.

According to Kiowa and Lakota legend, two girls were being chased by giant bears and sought shelter on a rock. They prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and he/she made the rock raise toward the heavens. The bears dug deep grooves in the sides trying to climb to the top, but the girls escaped. There are several other versions of the tale, but giant bears are common to all. That’s why American Indians called it “Home of the Bear” or “Bear’s Lair”. Colonel Richard I. Dodge coined the name “Devils Tower” sometime in the 1870s.

In 1906, Devils Tower became the nation’s first National Monument. It rises 867 ft. Apparently hundreds of insane people climb to the top every year. I’m afraid to climb to the top of a ladder, so I enjoyed it from the ground. William Rogers and Willard Ripley were first to make it to the top, on July 4, 1893.

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Custer State Park, South Dakota

In spring 2014, a friend and I had the opportunity to travel out to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming. On the way, we ran into a freak winter storm that blew across the Great Plains. There were wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City. Thankfully, it cleared up by the time we made it to Custer State Park, south of Rapid City, and the weather was perfect.

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Custer State Park is a state wildlife reserve in the Black Hills, named after George Armstrong Custer, who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn. It is 71,000 acres of scenic countryside. You can drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road through gently sloping terrain all around the park. There are also hiking trails, lodges, and lakes where trout fishing is popular.

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Besides picturesque scenery, Custer State Park’s big draw is a herd of over 1,300 bison. The bison are known to occasionally block the road. We drove through a big herd and got pretty close, but luckily they stayed away from the road.

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Lake George, New York

Lake George, in east-central New York, is a wonderful place to get away. Here you can experience boat rides, swimming, parasailing, history, hiking, drinking, dining, arcades, mini golf, and so much more. In the spring through fall, visitors flock to this area, and it isn’t hard to see why. I’ve spent two weekends there, and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It reminds me of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, or Wisconsin Dells, which is where my family vacationed when I was a kid.

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Fall is a good time to visit because the leaves change color, but things start shutting down for the season. I happened to be there Oktoberfest weekend, and the main street was partially blocked off. They had rides for the kids and a beer tent. I did a wine tasting at Adirondack Winery and ended up with a bottle of their Amethyst Sunset (I like sweet reds).

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There are so many little tourist shops, ice cream parlors, and places to eat. Exiting off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, you can follow Route 9 into town or explore south for a few miles. There are things to do all along that main street. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, Magic Forest, outlet stores, and Six Flags Great Escape are all south of Lake George. Magic Forest has the world’s largest Uncle Sam statue (not sure if that’s actually true…).

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