I’m a huge fan of diner food and luckily there are options all across CNY. You can’t go far without seeing at least a few spots, but since I rarely actually stop, I’m always wondering if they’re any good. The other night while attempting to find dinner beyond Syracuse’s annoying 10:00 p.m. food curfew, a place I’ve been dying to visit came into focus. By the time Mama Nancy’s name came up, things were getting desperate. I didn’t believe it when my date said that the place was open 24 hours, but she was right–I’ll admit it. The diner even has a giant red sign that says so.
Mama Nancy’s is located in a particularly seedy dead-end section of State Fair Boulevard between a hotel and the 690 West entrance ramp. Arriving there at such a late hour made me think about some crime dramas I watched recently. It also has that vague, eerie feeling of traveling south and making a late night stop off at an unfamiliar and seemingly unfriendly highway exit. My mind ran wild with potential intrigue, but I digress. The front of the building is a sort of washed out blue flanked by two stone column facades out of the 1950s. The red “OPEN 24 HRS” sign is almost as large as the sign bearing the restaurant’s name. And if you’re wondering–yes, I always take dates to fine diners at 12:30 a.m.
Despite the late hour, Mama Nancy’s seemed to get more lively as it got later. The blare of a few TVs echoed through the open dining room with more chairs than I’ve ever seen. A standard diner bar ran low and long for the interior’s length. Clearly Mama Nancy’s must do some serious covers, maybe at more reasonable hours. Since we were starving, Mama Nancy’s seemed like the right–if only–option. Checking out the double-sided menu reveals a huge amount of food like any respectable diner. The thing is, if I’m at a diner the only possible thing I’m ordering must involve bacon, homefries and enough Frank’s Red Hot to drown in. That means breakfast.
I ordered an orange juice and a breakfast combo of two scrambled eggs, Italian toast, bacon, and homefries. All that is only around $6.00. My companion got the Italian omelet with homefries, toast and most impressively to my mind–a side of ham. So there we sat, in a mostly abandoned diner on a dead-end street wondering what the mid-nineties era coin-operated video screens adorning each booth were for. Like any diner, the pleasure of the whole experience is having a non-pretentious meal and maybe a few cups of coffee. It’s this very casualness that puts me on the diner hunt again and again. I would argue that Mama Nancy’s delivers on every level when it comes to this. The friendly but simple, casual service and the honest plates of non-ironic, distinctly American food bring it all together for me. I’m a sucker for fine dining like anyone else, but take away a wholesome diner experience once and a while and you’ll find one unhappy Guru.
Our waitress was quick and efficient despite the demanding shift of a 24 hour diner and brought our drinks quickly with a smile. A couple sips in and that greasy, iconic breakfast aroma arrived, coming from two huge plates of food. Mine looked fantastic. Three strips of wonderfully cooked bacon atop a mound of homefries, flanked by two stacks of hot Italian toast finished off with a perfect portion of scrambled eggs. It sizzled slightly as it arrived. The Italian omelet was absolutely huge with that processed glowing red pepperoni as it’s most prominent element. It was topped with marinara sauce and stuffed with provolone with a large side of homefries (etc). A round slice of ham with grill marks and all came on a separate plate. After the concept that we would–within seconds–attack our plates set in, that’s exactly what happened.
I loved every last bite of my food. From the bacon with its perfect crisp to soft ratio and the thick buttery toast, to the warm scrambled eggs and the standout of the evening–the delicious homefries–this plate was a winner. Add Red Hot and you’re in Best Diner Breakfast in Syracuse territory. I’m a fan of Stella’s, but the attention to details and the fact that the homefries come cooked to perfection give Nancy’s a step up. I dispatched my plate very quickly and not just because I was starving, but because it was that good. It didn’t need salt or pepper either as the highly seasoned, veteran grills provide the flavor. I wish I thought to snap a picture of my plate. I’ll be going back for sure. Sadly, the Italian omelet didn’t fare as well–though she did finish it all, which earns serious points in my book. I asked for a quote and I’m going to paraphrase it a bit. The ingredients used in the Italian omelet were substandard–cold Prego sauce, bright red pepperoni, pizza grade sausage. As she says: “Yet, it oddly had a comforting effect on a cold night… The homefries hardly acted as a side and stole the spotlight from the main feature. Just crispy enough of an exterior, soft potato inside, hardly greasy–as is expected from a diner–and something I would try to and most likely fail to replicate in my own type A pretentious kitchen.” You heard it here. I’d suggest sticking with the tried and true breakfast classics.
The total was $22 and change.
So given that my meal was incredibly satisfying and the high marks the truly delicious homefries got from both of us, I gotta go with:
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