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

Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise

Directions | Web site | Overall Rating: 4

Courtesy of MamaNancys.com

I know economically it’s not the case, but we could be in an awareness renaissance for diners in Syracuse. Nationally Mr. Richman and co. helped put it on the map with a trip to Mother’s Cupboard. Locally the Post-Standard highlighted our recent project on the CNY diner scene and the response has been robust.

Despite all the new diner recommendations and buzz around the scene, there’s still one really lacking area for CNY diner culture… 24hr locales.  Hello, Mama Nancy’s.

Mama Nancy’s is the lone 24-hr diner within Syracuse (unless you count Denny’s or iHop). Nearly everyone in the country has driven by it at some point because it’s on the way to the State Fairgrounds, right next to the appropriately shady looking State Fairgrounds Motel off I-690.  You’d be quick to dismiss the building as a truckstop or all-night highway convenient store if you didn’t take a second look. However, Mama Nancy’s is as much of a diner as any of its local counterparts.

Inside, Mama Nancy’s is spacious. The dining area is open with tables, booths and countertop seating. The decor is fairly plain – some minor patriotic imagery, some “Mom’s kitchen” type of knick-knacks – but it’s added to by the novelty of change operated personal TVs near some of the seating. You’ll never be starved for seating due to the locale/hours/perception/size of this place so that certainly favors the customer.

My visit happened around 1 a.m. and the service was spot-on despite a surprisingly active dining room. Our waitress was quick to explain some of the dishes (“Breakfast in a Bowl,” really?) and remained attentive despite the hour. She gladly brought out extra sauces or toast and adjusted to our late order of homefries without any complaints.

I’m not sure what the full array of menu offerings is at Mama Nancy’s because their website suggests they offer different menus based on the time of day. The late night menu was only two pages but it was heavy on heavy meats and breakfast offerings. A colleague and I ordered two of the specials – the breakfast in a bowl and the “Sir Duke” (omelette with chicken, cheese, sour cream and broccoli) – to split and stayed under $20 with cups of coffee each.

For what looks like a truck stop, that is mostly a gigantic open space indoors,  filled with some of the most interesting clientele due to the 24/7 trait, Mama Nancy’s made a damn good breakfast. The omelette was not a combination I’ve ever tried before but it was light and flavorful, a good contrast from the crispier, salted homefries that accompanied it. The real winner is the breakfast bowl (so hold off your “You can’t be serious, didn’t KFC do that?” lines of judgement). The sausage gravy it utilizes is based in spicy italian sausage, the biscuit is filling yet super light and soft.  That alone would be a noteworthy dish but then you get eggs any style, homefries and a sausage patty thrown into the mix. It’s unbelievably filling as a whole but the dish also offers a palette that you can mix and match with to create multiple flavor combinations (all of which compliment each other well).  Any skepticism we had about it was gone within the first bite. It’s a dish any late night breakfast enthusiast should try once.

Mama Nancy’s isn’t flashy by any means. There is no antique chrome lining the walls or local lure that causes lines out the door on weekends. The place seems to know this however and takes solace in it. They describe themselves: “Ma Ma Nancy’s is the best kept secret in town. Not only is the food Great, but with all the fun. So is the location.” Those aren’t complete thoughts or sentences and it doesn’t matter. Mama Nancy’s is a place that can hit the spot when you need it no matter what time of day. That’s the only thought that matters.

The Final Tab

Pros: Filling meal options; 24/7 diner; gritty diner atmosphere; incredibly spacious

Cons: Cost can be semi-pricey ($20 for the two entrees); menu slightly limited

Overall: 4-homefries3

Four out of Five (Pancakes with sides | Some days you’ll seek it out)

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