Cutting short my morning run because the husband wanted to get to The Gem Diner at 5:30 a.m. for its 6 a.m. grand opening on Friday, June 17, we pulled up to 832 Spencer St., expecting a line. Except, surprise!, we were the line. Television cameras and reporters, and a photographer from the daily down the street, were inside. WSYR-Channel 9 good guy Keith Kobland reported later that he’d been there since 4:30 a.m.
Must-have-been-exhausted proprietor Doug LaLone opened the door at 5:45 a.m. for us early birds, who remained outnumbered by the media for about a half-hour (my entrance upped the media presence by one but my mission was more understated). Behind us in line was a gent who sat in the next booth over and attempted to order a beer. A beer? At 5:45 a.m.? The waitress advised him to return later that day when the taps would be open.
Folks filed in, and one guy sat at the counter, book at hand. It’s his book, in fact, Diners of New York (Stackpole Books, 2008). Michael Engle earned his 15 minutes of Syracuse fame, times two, courtesy of Channel 9 and WSTM-Channel 3. Kobland put him on air at 6:30 a.m., while Channel 3’s Caitlin Nuclo gave him the 6 a.m. slot. “I just had to be here,” he reported outside, after eating breakfast.
“This place looks great.”
The food is pretty darn good, too. While one breakfast of two eggs over easy with home fries and dry wheat toast arrived with one egg—quickly remedied by the waitress—the other plate held a twist on Eggs Benedict I have not seen in Syracuse before. Eggs Oscar ditched the Canadian bacon in favor of asparagus between English muffin and poached egg and crab meat underneath a just-right gilding of Hollandaise sauce. For dinner, try the Steak Oscar, the same toppings on a New York Strip steak.
A medium-roast coffee from Boston Beans, while not hometown fave Paul deLima, still tasted flavorful and welcome at 6 a.m.
Lunch and dinner items complete the comprehensive menu, with pizza an unusual twist for a diner.
Order up!: Wait staff at the newly
refurbished and reopened Gem Diner include
Courtney Smith and Kari Hudson, who no doubt
had to help this young customer (left) through the
comprehensive and creative menu.
LaLone, whose family runs the nearby noshing institution Mama Nancy’s, 510 State Fair Blvd., presided over a soft opening on Wednesday, June 15, with lots of well-wishers and music by Don Martin, as they all noted the expanded dining room and the outside porch that is perfect for future music events. And while it’s probably time to address fixing the stopped clock that has for decades rested above the main entrance, at least its current time of 6:20 is right twice daily.
The Gem will be open Sundays through Wednesdays, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Thursdays through Saturdays, 6 a.m. to midnight.
Seven years ago, Jennifer Clark and her husband Bob Rozzano went back to the earth and purchased a winery. But along with grapevines, Cobblestone Farm Winery also contains 5 1/2 acres of cherries, both tart and sweet. Overcome with too much of a good thing—there is only so much cherry cobbler and cherry pie she can bake—Clark devised an annual Cherry Festival, during which visitors can come to Romulus, along the western shore of Cayuga Lake, and pick all they like.
“We were trying to think of a way to have people come in to pick all the trees clean,” Clark says. “I thought that a festival would make it fun for everybody involved: Parents could taste the wine and food and check out the arts and crafts; kids could enjoy the cherry picking and play some games. And so over the years, the festival has grown.”
The first cherry festival took place in 2004 with about 500 people showing up at the winery; last year, there were 2,800. “Pretty much the sweet cherries get picked clean,” Clark says. “Sweet cherry season lasts about 10 days, while sour cherries, which are good for baking, are picked into mid-July.”
Music will entertain the pickers as well, with The Mojo Band on Saturday, and The Heaters on Sunday. In addition, 19 crafters have signed on, and will sell such goods as jewelry, soaps, candles, pottery, woodcrafts and garden items. Country games for the kids include hay rides, bean bag toss, a milk bottle toss and—sure to be a favorite—cherry-pit spitting.
And don’t forget this is a winery, so vintages will be available for tasting. Wines produced at Cobblestone Farm run the gamut from sweet to dry, with Riesling, chardonnay, seyval, vignoles, merlot, Catawba and the ubiquitous Cayuga. Considered a small winery, with about 2,000 cases bottled a year, Cobblestone Farm Winery, 5102 Route 89, Romulus, does produce cherry wine, but not from the fruit grown on its grounds. “We use cherry juice from other source,” Clark notes, “as opposed to using them off the trees. The orchard is solely for picking.” And whatever is left after the weekend picking is over remains available for U-pick.
Cobblestone Farm Winery’s Cherry Festival runs Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 549-8797 or visit www.cobblestonefarmwinery.com.
Once you get those cherries home, try the recipe below.
This recipe is from allrecipes.com.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
2 cups pitted sour cherries
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the butter in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and set in the oven to melt while the oven is preheating. Remove as soon as butter has melted, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and baking powder. Mix in the milk until well blended, then pour the batter into the pan over the butter. Do not stir. Rinse out the bowl from the batter, and dry. Place cherries into the bowl, and toss with the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour. Distribute the cherry mixture evenly over the batter. Do not stir. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the cobbler should come out clean.