Ithaca Blog

Friday, September 01, 2006

Food World: Diners

One of the great things about holidays is the opportunity to travel, and to eat in diners.

You can tell right away, I am easy to please.

But I like eating in diners. It's like going to a foreign country. You're just passing through. It's not a place you'd normally go. Inside, nobody knows you. You don't know them and you'll never see them again. So there is the easy familiarity of complete cosmic strangers.

If you're traveling this Labor Day weekend, you can start the fun early by giving yourself over to the lure and the lore of the diner. If you do, you will be doing plenty of meal-time reading soon enough, with a big, multi-page, laminate diner menu before you; so we will keep our pre-trip tips brief, and wish you happy trails and digestion.

The State Diner
The Ithaca landmark. Open 24 hours. Because it's an in-town diner, not necessarily for travellers, the foreign country factor doesn't pertain, although it is definitely diner world in the State, with the bold fluorescent lights and the counter stools and the booths (there isn't a free-standing chair in the place). The best bargain is breakfast, which is served all day. Mandatory three-count on the toast. That's right, three slices.

The Blue Dolphin, Apalachin NY.
Apalachin is about 45 minutes away, between Owego and Binghamton off Route 17. The Blue Dolphin is a good choice for Type-A travelers who feel slothful having a big meal-up at the State Diner before even going anywhere: by waiting until you hit the Blue Dolphin, you've already accomplished something. And the fare is worth the wait - better than State Diner's, particularly the home fries, which are freshly made on the premises, not food service. And the prices are about the same. The place is big, clean, and the service is fast and friendly. Recommended.

The Roscoe Diner, Roscoe NY.
If you have lived in Ithaca for any length of time - say, a few days or more - and came here from the NYC area, you have probably been to the Roscoe Diner. It is roughly the half-way point between NYC and here, both physically and psychically, with its Long Island architecture and college-pennant decor, and its gigantic menu with items meant to appeal to every ethnicity and age and style of eater.
One suspects that even with the breadth of the menu, 80 percent of the orders are either breakfast or burgers or club sandwiches. Any of these things will be plenty to eat. Personally, I will generally go with a burger at the Roscoe, because they have "deluxe" options (involving fries, cole slaw, and/or cheese), and I like ordering the "deluxe", because you hardly ever get to say the word "deluxe", much less with a straight face.

The pre-eminence of the diner has been challenged in recent decades by the rise of fast- food chains. Do not succumb to these places, despite the anonymity of the road, which might allow you the guilty pleasure of eating a Big Mac without anyone you know seeing you. It's not worth it. Simply put, the odds of keen nausea within minutes of ingesting are just too high. Then the dizzy remorse can ruin your trip.

Culinarily and otherwise, have a safe and fun weekend.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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