Historic Roadside Eats

May 16, 2017

I took a ride down memory lane recently. Spring fever spurred a fresh interest in roadside history… with a little nostalgia thrown in the mix.

I’m referring to those diners of yesteryear – those period eateries of the 1940s and 1950s that featured plentiful fare at reasonable prices and a lot of homespun banter.

Thankfully there are a few of those diners still around Central New York. They look like something plopped down from a bygone era… a little rundown on the outside, but warm and friendly with hearty helpings of food inside.

I happened by three of them in the Utica-Herkimer area.

Two are original Silk City Diners, one made in 1951 (Daybreak Diner in Marcy) and the other in 1945 (Bev’s Diner in Whitesboro).

They look a little like railroad dining cars on the outside, and in that sense, they were custom-designed, pre-assembled and easily shipped to a location.

The third old-time eatery is a 1952 Mountainview Diner (Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner in Herkimer).

Empire Diner, claiming to be “home of the world’s largest omelet”, has kept its name over the decades despite several changes in ownership.

Bev’s was originally called Auggies when it first moved to Whitesboro from Frankfort, some old-timers claim. It, too, features hearty breakfast cuisine, served surprisingly fast.

Daybreak, boasting lumberjack-size pancakes that make any large plate seem tiny, was originally located on Wurz Avenue in Utica, and moved to Marcy in 1963, according to one former owner. It was known as Jet Diner, then Betty’s and finally Sharyn’s Place before its current owners decided to reopen it with a name reflecting the start of a new day – and a new era for a 65-year-old roadside diner.

Unlike at other restaurants, the clientele chat across booths and counter stools. One group of veterans sporting military-themed caps was updating others down the aisle on their latest medical episodes while simultaneously teasing the waitress, who was quick with funny retorts.

It was easy to leave a big tip.

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