Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
There are certain things that make a diner unmistakably charming: Variety in crowd type and size, a robust yet inexpensive menu offering specials and breakfast any time, an atmosphere that is just clean enough to maintain a “hole-in-the-wall / our secret spot” feel, and 24/7 hours that make it an oasis for hungry, bored or vital-conversation-needing folks alike. I heard about such fantasies first on the Golden Apple episode of This American Life. I lived such fantasies first at Doc’s Little Gem Diner. It’s practically what our rating system was based off.
Doc’s is the rare diner that generation after generation of folks have “discovered” and made their own go-to locale. Somehow the place carries an equal amount of charm whether you’re going for Sunday breakfast or finding some real salvation after a Friday night out. It’s tucked away off Route 690 with the only nearby establishment of note being a Harley Distributor. You’ve found your destination when the familiar sign greets you literally in the middle of nowhere.
Doc’s is a classic American diner. It’s metallic, originally driven to its resting place, and the waitstaff wears a modern take on the traditional diner uniform. Doc himself even cooks despite the place being a Syracuse staple for 50-plus years.
Inside is cozy yet with the large countertop seating area you can squeeze a surprising amount of people in during peak hours. When the places turns into a 24-hr establishment on Thursday through Sunday (used to be all week but a fire then the economy has shaken but not finished Doc’s), rest assured the place is much emptier with its fair share of characters.
The menu at Doc’s is also traditional fare. There is a large breakfast selection with both everyday and rotating specials, and a lunch/dinner menu that takes the same approach. Waitstaff won’t steer you wrong when faced with such a big selection. On my most recent visit a friend was saved from ordering regular pancakes or toast and turned onto the daily special L.A. French Toast (bigger slices of toast, made from cinnamon raisin bread, topped with powdered sugar). Robyn was an instant hit for us after that.
I opted for the staple of Doc’s Little Gem, the split-plate frittata. It’s a (description). Doc’s edition is so big that the offer the half option for just $6.75. When you need a to be full with hearty flavors and a little bit of spice, nothing else hits the spot quite like Doc’s frittata.
Doc’s inspired my love and pursuit of diner culture, so it’s no surprise that it receives almost nothing but praise. The thing is, it’s a place to go with friends and none of them have ever opted to pass after their introduction to it. Doc’s is place to visit yourself, likely igniting your own love for it, before it’s too late.
The Final Tab
Pros: Dream ambiance, great waitstaff, good food, cheap prices
Five out of Five (Robust breakfast platter | Go early and often to the point you can say, “I’ll have the usual)