Diner Critique: Stella’s (Syracuse, N.Y.)

Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise

Directions | Web site | Overall Rating: 3

There are endless either-or eternal debates. Music has The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (maybe even Elton or Billy). Baseball boasts the Yankees or Red Sox. Choosing one side tells someone from the other everything they’ll ever want to know.

If Syracuse diners were the realm in question, the eternal debate would find its way near the Carousel Mall. On Sunday morning when early morning cravings call, where do you go? Doc’s or Stella’s?

Sure, my answer is clear. But Stella’s does prove to be a worthy adversary in many ways.

The first thing you’ll notice about Stella’s is that the place is huge… which is good because if you go for a weekend breakfast you will have a true 20 minute wait. The place has developed a sign-in/waitlist system that cycles in the breakfast seekers pretty effectively. The hype around Stella’s is so vast in the area though, even a place of its size carries this tedious wait.  Plan on arriving a little before you’re genuinely hungry.

After getting seated, the next thing you’ll be unable to avoid is Betty Boop. She’s everywhere in the decor. I don’t know the backstory on the diner’s obsession with her, but I hope you have a liking for her image. If you’re just lukewarm on Betty Boop, you might notice the ten or so in the menu and the 11 lurking in the additional backroom seating area.

When you finally get down to the nuts and bolts of the place, you can see where Stella’s lure comes from. The waitstaff is very quick considering how many customers they deal with in a given shift. Many of the waitstaff are even outwardly friendly despite the stress they’re constantly under. I’ve had a waitress take a seat to watch a colleague eat the chicken sandwich because she never saw anyone order it. Only 15 minutes later, she was at the table next to us with her own. It was oddly charming.

The true beauty of Stella’s is the food though. It’s an average price (you’ll pay near $7 for many of the omelets) but you get what you pay for. The portions are huge and most orders come with a side.

This is the bread and butter of Stella’s (with some meals, literally). Their homefries are the single best I’ve encountered in and out of Syracuse. The style is very unique – not quite shredded, not quite fried, not quite whole breakfast potatoes. Onions are burnt in to give it some flavor, the grease level is about perfect (so a giant heaping portion goes down quickly and smoothly) and whatever combination of spices they use is perfect to enhance the flavor of the potato. They’re equally enjoyable plain, with ketchup or hot sauce, luke warm, with eggs, etc. I once ate a side order of Stella’s homefries with my fingers after they sat in a room for nearly three and a half hours.  Taste these things and you’ll see why I have absolutely no shame over that.

If Stella’s were a small diner where you can always find a seat and hear your conversations, it’d easily be a 5 in my book. The food honestly merits it. However, constant crowds, inevitable waits, average at best rates and an alarming amount of Betty Boop can get in the way of that at times.Try the homefries and you’ll see why all that extra fluff is such a shame. You’ll be wanting to order take out pretty often.

The Final Tab

Pros: Great food, large space means groups can be accomodated

Cons:  Average prices, average hours (open only until 9 p.m.), often crowded, odd decor



Three Out Of Five (Basic combo | It’s OK – try it.)


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