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All-American Diner Tour: The Gem Diner in Syracuse, New York

Located off Spencer Street near I-690 in Syracuse’s Lakefront neighborhood, The Gem is a 1950s-style or rock ‘n’ roll-themed diner that also has an impressive beer menu featuring local breweries.

The Gem was founded by Henry “Hank” McCall in 1950 as The Little Gem Diner. In 1997, Francis “Doc” Good bought the Little Gem and renamed it Doc’s Little Gem Diner. In 2003, the State of New York banned smoking in most public places, and Doc estimated he lost 40% of his customers.

Then, in September 2007, a fire ravaged the diner and it was closed for repairs for over two months. After years of financial trouble, he sold it in 2011 to Len Montreal and Samuel Flatt. Doug LaLone leased the Gem, renovated, rebranded, and built an addition that expanded its seating from 47 seats to 130.

As an interesting aside, in 2009 Doc’s Little Gem Diner appeared in an episode of Jesse Ventura’s TruTV show Conspiracy Theory. The diner served as a backdrop for an interview with 9/11 conspiracy theorist Mike Bellone of Seneca Falls.

The Gem’s breakfast menu is heavy on the meat. You can get a 6 oz. Filet Mignon with two eggs, home fries and toast for $17.95, or a New York strip steak with two eggs, home fries and toast for $11.95. They also offer a cheeseburger breakfast, or if you want to cut right to the chase, just a half pound of chopped ground beef with with two eggs, home fries and toast for $9.00. You can also smother it in grilled mushrooms, onions, and peppers for a dollar.

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All-American Diner Tour: Market Diner in Syracuse, New York

Located off Park Street north of Destiny Mall and adjacent to the Syracuse Farmer’s Market, the Market Diner is rock ‘n’ roll-themed with a cafe-like atmosphere. Owned by the Marinos family since 1974.

The CNY Regional Market is a sprawling flea market in central Syracuse, open on Saturday and Sunday, and Thursday May through November. Many folks stop at the Market Diner to fuel up for a morning or afternoon of browsing through endless tables of junk (I mean, er… treasures), though it is not exclusively tied to the market. When a friend and I visited, I ordered an omelet with toast and a bowl of grits. Grits are usually iffy this far north, but these weren’t too bad.

Despite being quite crowded that morning, we were seated, put in our order, and received our food in a timely manner.

The Market Diner has a traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu with a few custom items, most notably the State Fair Sausage Sub. The sub comes with Gianelli sausage, onions, peppers, and provolone on a grilled sub roll for $7.99. Nonna’s Double Meat Lasagna, Zelma’s Meatloaf (“Famous for our HUGE portions served with smothered in Silky gravy with soup or salad and two sides”), and Niko’s Pot Roast, each for $10.99, are also available.

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All-American Diner Tour: Prospect Mountain Diner in Lake George, New York

Located along US Route 9 just west of Lake George Battleground State Campground, Prospect Mountain Diner is a typical 1950s or rock ‘n’ roll-themed diner in Lake George, New York, complete with tableside jukeboxes.

There is so much to see and do in Lake George, and the Prospect Mountain Diner is at the heart of it all. After a bad experience at a different local restaurant the previous morning, I welcomed Prospect Mountain’s casual atmosphere and reasonable prices. Unlike the other place, which charged $2.50 for every soda refill (more than a gallon of gas!), refills here were free. I ordered a Belgian waffle topped with apples and whipped cream.

The original Prospect Mountain, called Point Diner and located at the junction of Routes 9 and 9L, was a classic Silk City Diner. The Paterson Wagon Company produced approximately 1,500 Silk City Diners from 1926 to 1966 in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1967, the Point Diner’s owner, Phillip Patenaude, moved it to its current location and renamed it the Prospect Mountain Diner. It burnt down in 2007 and a replica was built in its place.

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All-American Diner Tour: Doo-Wah Ditty’s in Kimball, South Dakota

At the tail end of March 2014, a friend and I decided to drive out to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower. It was springtime in the Midwest, and thoughts of winter storms were long behind us. About ninety minutes west of Sioux Falls along Interstate 90, however, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up, and dark clouds formed ominously on the horizon.

Apparently we had driven into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City.

We decided to stop for gas and check the weather at the Conoco gas station off Highway 16 near the tiny town of Kimball, South Dakota. “Real Food,” a large sign announced as we pulled off the interstate. The sign referred to Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner, located inside the gas station.

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

Located at 1280 Coffeen Street, just off Interstate 81, in Watertown, New York, Shorty’s Place is a great 1950s-themed diner and a favorite of both locals and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum. It’s worth going for the decor alone. The owner must have spent a long time tracking down so much Coca-Cola-themed bric-a-brac. The diner is clean and nostalgia palpable. Seating includes a long counter, tables, and booths. Each booth contains a working jukebox.

Shorty’s food is diverse and above average. Menu choices include charbroiled pork chops, fried scallops, black & blue charbroiled chicken breast, pulled pork BBQ sandwich (Wednesdays), a breakfast lasagna, and more. They even have a limited beer and wine selection and make old-fashioned milkshakes with hard milk flavoring. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served all day, except for soup, which is only served in the afternoon and evening. Prices are reasonable: expect to pay between $10 and $13 per person, including a drink. The most expensive item on the menu is the friend seafood platter for $11.89.

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