Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
I drive I-81 all the time since I live in Syracuse, N.Y. but have my roots in Scranton, Pa. It’s an easy 2-hour ride all basically on that one road. Normally I travel with others and Exit 6 (Chenango) becomes the pit stop due to its plethora of fast food – Arby’s, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, McD’s, BK, KFC (everything outside of Taco Bell basically).
This time however I made the drive by myself. That meant it was time to tackle one of the few diners advertised on the lovely road side food signs. There are plenty of “family restaurants” that might be diners, Flying J’s and a place just 15 minutes away from Syracuse that while potentially reviewable would be a waste to do on this legitimate road trip. That leaves one choice. Next stop Exit 11 – Cortland, N.Y. and Apple Annie’s. The first thing to know about Apple Annie’s – it’s kind of hard to find. The sign off 81 says turn right but doesn’t say how far down the road it is. The truth of it is that Apple Annie’s really isn’t a turn right at all – it’s one of those Mapquest slight rights from 81-N. It’s located in the complex with all of the chain hotels. That’ll tell you all you need to know about the clientèle (travelers, old people) and hint at what the ambiance is.
When you Google Apple Annie’s…the “official web site” according to the search is Dennys.com. Combine that with the locale and decor and the overall ambiance is in line with chain mentality (not to mention the exterior looks like an IHOP… or an Arby’s if you recall that review). I didn’t look at the hours specifically but if it’s similar to Denny’s I wouldn’t expect anything past 10 or 11 p.m. despite being neighbors with a hotel. At least the crowds improve the overall environment. It was very low-key and empty when I was there and my other diners were great people watching material (typical in my mind for elders and road warriors. I heard one woman behind me exclaim, “Who had the strokes?” during breakfast and even those she wasn’t referring to the band it certainly added some personality to the place).
The best thing about this place was by far the service. It was phenomenally customer-oriented. My waitress made two rounds of, “more coffee?” within my first 10 minutes and was later justified by the elderly trio across the room audibly telling her as they left, “We were very pleased with your service.” I was on a reading of the “I Make My Bones” chapter of Kitchen Confidential while eating that day. I started reading after placing my order and receiving my tea but within finishing half of page 105 she was back asking if I needed more hot water. Add to that the fact my bacon and cheddar omelet with home fries was done after reading just one full page and my waitress and I had a candid conversation about her daughter’s college search while I checked out. What more can you say? The place may look and feel like a chain in many aspects but service wasn’t one of them – they were well above and beyond.
Sadly the food wasn’t as superb. Its best aspect was the pace (it was out literally within a page of reading – how long can that be? Three minutes tops?). The price was somewhat expensive. Their breakfast combo, called the Hungry Man Combo, was $8.49 for 2 ham, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, pancakes and homefries. Come to think of it that’s a pretty good deal for that amount of food, but my omelet was nearly as expensive ($7.99) and more of the menu was in line with that.
As for the taste, my omelet was more like bacon engulfed by a wrap made of eggs. The bacon wasn’t very crisp but still greasy enough to make the plate shine long after it was gone (should places start incorporating the Foreman to handle that situation?). The homefries were the thinly sliced kind but lacked texture by making some strips crisper than others (in fact some were downright soft like a boiled potato). I loved the portions on the toast for some reason though, that was the taste highlight of the meal.
The Final Tab
Pros: Exceptional service, likeable crowds, locale condusive to travelers.
Cons: No unique ambiance, price, so-so food
Two out of Five (Just Eggs | Could’ve been better…)