Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
It’s not easy to resist the obvious puns when working with a entity like the Elm Street Cafe. If the cafe was more like other I-81 (or I-80) roadside diners, this page would be littered with Nightmare references and a Photoshopped image of Freddie Krueger making eggs.
A morning breakfast at the Elm Street Cafe demands better than that though… much better.Off exit 14 on I-81, the Elm Street Cafe looks like the local equivalent of the standard stop-‘n-go coffee shop. They even have a drive-through (which can’t be said for many diners) and, without being an expert, I certainly think the coffee warrants a drive-by. It’s a darker roast (a.k.a. more flavorful) and it tastes fresh compared to a lot of the diner coffee I drink. However if you manage to stop, recognize it’s also an eatery and then take the time to go inside, the Elm Street Cafe has all the makings of a spot you want to become a regular at.
The place is plain on the outside (just a blue ranch, indescript sign) but very clean and stylish within. High ceilings and a minimalist black and white color scheme give the place a cool ambiance. There is no countertop seating, but they do have an order window that gives you a peek into the kitchen. Despite that, seating isn’t an issue with both tables and booths all over in the main dining place.
Waitstaff is friendly and quick to refill the coffee mug. They ask where you’re coming from and are quick to keep you up to date on all the local happenings (must be a mix of local and passerbys for the regular crowd). The exterior signage advertises the place is open seven days a week, but truthfully I can’t find standardized hours for the cafe anywhere online (cheap plug – I will help any good diners with their web presence 🙂 ).
Thankfully the food lives up to how pleasant every other aspect of the joint is. The menu is larger than average (also remember it has a larger hot drinks offering) and the food is very, very solid. I opted for the breakfast special which was three hot cakes, two eggs and two meats of choice for just $4.95.
The food is so aesthcially perfect that it looks like a promo shot for Denny’s or the like. Rest assured there is a distinct taste difference between Denny’s and the Elm Street Cafe however. Elm Street’s pancakes were light and flavorful even before being covered in butter or syrup. The over-easy eggs were just firm enough on the bottom but still maintained the softness and gooeyness you want from the top/yolk. Sausage wasn’t nearly as greasy as even the toast at Denny’s either. It was simple food cooked very well. Gordon Ramsey would be proud.
The only knock against the Elm Street Cafe came from my partner the day we visited. She had a side of homefries with her breakfast. While they were certainly better than some varieties I’ve eaten, it was a noticeable dip compared to the rest of the food. They opt for being loyal to the potato (bigger individual bite, less fried or boiled prep) which isn’t always ideal for folks used to greasy and super-season breakfast potatoes.
The Elm Street Cafe is simply can’t miss for travellers on I-81 no matter if you want a cup of coffee to-go or a short stack to sit with. One experience there will have you questioning whether it’s worth the drive to Tully specifically for breakfast rather than using the establishment solely as a pitstop.
The Final Tab
Pros: Cool decor, solid waitstaff, simple/delicious food at very reasonable prices, excellent coffee options, great roadside option
Cons: Their best item isn’t homefries (a big deal for a homefry fanatic)
Four out of Five (Pancakes with sides | Some days you’ll seek it out)