Last year, I visited diners all over New York, from classic dining cars to more modern establishments. There’s something about the unassuming atmosphere, greasy food, and nostalgia that keeps me coming back. I prefer the classic designs, for obvious reasons. There are plenty of Greek-American restaurants that call themselves diners, but there are only a few originals left. Some of my favorites include Mother’s Cupboard in Syracuse, Center Diner in Peekskill, Lloyd’s Diner in Lowville, and of course Red Robin Diner in Johnson City.
Lloyd’s of Lowville is a rare classic diner–an actual train car converted into a restaurant. Opened by Lloyd Rasmussen in 1939 at the juncture of Routes 12 and 26 to serve nearby factory workers, it has been a local favorite ever since. Current owner Blair Sandri bought it in 1985, and it still has its original wood furnishings. It’s so beloved, several of its waitresses have worked there for over 25 years.
The rooftop sign looks a little odd because its neon lights have been removed. They were apparently too expensive to maintain or repair, but their removal is disappointing from an aesthetic point of view.
On my visit, I ordered a grilled bacon and cheese sandwich with a side of potato chips for $5.85. It was tasty and reasonably priced. My soda came in a tiny glass, but refills were regular. My waitress was very friendly. Everyone in the place seemed to know each other, but I didn’t feel left out or snubbed for being a new face.
Lloyd’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but its menu is paired down to two and a quarter pages. Calling it “no frills” would be an understatement. They don’t have any custom items, but they do offer homemade apple cake. They also serve homemade potato and macaroni salad in the summer and chili in the winter. The most expensive items on the menu, including a fried haddock dinner, are only $12.60.
Situated on Peekskill Bay on the Hudson River’s east bank, Peekskill is a small river town with a modern downtown. The Center Diner, opened in 1939 on Bank Street off Route 202 (Main Street), is a classic greasy spoon wedged between an alley and a plasma center. It is a rare, true diner. Classic diners were prefabricated buildings modeled on train dining cars and mass produced by companies out of New Jersey. This model is called a “National diner,” and it inspired the Sunset Diner in Little Lulu comics.
On my visit, I ordered the Golden Brown French Toast, which came with two sausage patties and a can(!) of Coke for $5.95. Restaurants selling cans of soda, rather than having a beverage fountain, is a pet peeve of mine, but it came with the meal so I guess I can’t complain. Two potbellied old men sat at the counter, talking about politics while an industrial fan whirled in the background. My waitress was a grandmotherly lady who, if she was the same waitress mentioned in countless reviews, had been working there a long time. The French toast was good, price was reasonable, and service efficient.
The Center Diner has a typical menu with a few surprises. There is a small Greek section, offering gyros, balboa, and something called chicken souvlaki served in a pita. According to Wikipedia, souvlaki is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. I’ve eaten this before but never knew what it was called. That’s only $6.50, or $8.50 with French fries.
Center Diner has a 4.3/5 average out of 34 Google reviews and 4.0/5 average on Yelp. Customers generally enjoy the nostalgia and affordable prices. In a typical positive review, Google user Jeff Altorfer wrote, “This place is downright great! It’s the real thing: This is an OLD fashioned NY diner. I mean that in every way. Run down, neglected, NO artifice what so ever. Hard working almost painfully efficient staff that have ZERO patience for modern customers that have no idea what they want, how they want it, or that need 50 options on everything…”
Located on State Route 290 (James Street) near a cemetery and railroad tracks in northeastern Syracuse, New York, Mother’s Cupboard is a greasy spoon serving up giant frittatas and pancakes in the morning and fried fish in the early afternoon.
Think sizzling bacon, fried fish, fried frittatas, french toast and pancakes covered in bacon grease, a chef sweating over a hot grill in front of you while you eat, and you have Mother’s Cupboard in a nutshell. The diner/red shack is famous for appearing on an episode of Travel Channel’s Man vs Food in 2010. If you can finish a full-plate frittata (6-lbs. of eggs, sausage, pepperoni and hash browns), you win a t-shirt and get your photo on the wall.
This diner has a simple and affordable menu, with some interesting surprises. Have you ever wanted to eat outside the box and try peppers and eggs, pepperoni and eggs, or even broccoli and eggs? Now you can, for less than $5. Or just chow down on a full pound of home fries with or without onions for $2.25. That’s a heart attack waiting to happen. They offer 12-inch pancakes as well.
Located on Court Street near the Black River in Watertown, New York, Friede’s Diner is a greasy spoon serving up affordable breakfast and lunch to a local clientele.
I had an interesting experience at Friede’s. As I walked in and sat down, I got the feeling I was out of place. The waiter (or owner?) asked me what I wanted without even handing me a menu. It’s on a sketchy street with a rundown bar and a few abandoned buildings, so maybe they’re used to regulars who always order the same thing.
I ended up ordering an omelet with toast. The toast consisted of huge slices of homemade bread, which was delicious, but my soda came in a can (a pet peeve of mine). Friede’s also only takes cash and their ATM was busted, but thankfully the owner let me run to a nearby gas station. I guess I look like a trustworthy guy.
Located in Syracuse near the border of the Italian-American hamlet of Lyncourt, New York, Carl’s Kountry Kitchen is a classic greasy spoon right out of the 1960s. Like the surrounding neighborhood, not much has changed here in decades.
On my visit, I ordered the Belgian waffle with blueberries and sausage. The Diet Coke came in a can, which is a pet peeve of mine. They are also a cash only establishment, but provide an ATM. I got the impression Carl’s catered to older regulars, but the waitress was nice and attentive. There is some booth seating, but it has a unique counter setup. There are two, U-shaped counters. The waiter or waitress can walk right up to patrons without ever having to leave the serving area. Condiments, napkins, and silverware are all within easy arms reach behind the counter.
Breakfast is served all day at Carl’s. They offer standard fare of omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, a Belgian waffle, and numbered specials–most of which include two eggs and some kind of side with coffee. They do serve silver dollar pancakes, which is something I haven’t noticed at other diners in the region. Polish Kielbasa, a thick, smoked sausage, is also available.
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.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved diners, especially 1950s-themed diners or old, out of the way places that haven’t changed their decor in forty years. Greasy spoons that wouldn’t pass a health inspection. Unfortunately, there aren’t many classic diners in Illinois. No, Denny’s doesn’t count. When I moved to New York, I discovered the East Coast loves diners too. I decided to start posting travelogues/reviews of some of the diners I’ve visited over the years. The following is a list of some of the ones I’ll be writing about.
- Mother’s Cupboard in Syracuse, NY
- Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner in Kimball, SD
- Prospect Mountain Diner in Lake George, NY
- Knotty Pine Diner in Wampsville, NY
- Flo’s Diner in Canastota, NY
- Suburban Diner in Paramus, NJ
- And many more~!
Keep a lookout for my All-American Diner Tour, coming soon!