Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
What is a diner? In the past I’ve found folks who define it based on cuisine and the smartest man in CNY diners has his own six-point checklist. Can a diner double as a locale for the best local (and eventually national) bands to perform while in town? Can it sell vinyl and local art on the side? Can you place it in a space below one of the Top 50 college bars in America?
Funk N’ Waffles answers yes to all those. A self-proclaimed cafe started near Syracuse University by two grads has become a go-to hangout for students and community members alike. Folks come for the music, the atmosphere or perhaps the Gimme! Coffee, but no matter the reason FnW seems to have something everyone can like.
In terms of atmosphere, FnW normally operates as a casual cafe style establishment. Sometimes you can get a lunchtime DJ to mix things up, but it’s less dance party and more music nerd down the hallway sharing some great old vinyl. There’s a variety of seating options (tables, booths and also easy chairs or couches) all spread out within a fairly spacious area. Most walls are lined with art and classic funk/soul records, but on the far one (doubling as the performance stage) you can see the place’s clever logo etched on the wall. It’s a stark contrast to what else is available in the Marshall Street area and certainly one of the place’s real appeals (WiFi availble to boot).
FnW gets diner cred in my mind when it comes to the menu and service. As the Diner Docent said, real diners don’t have workers that wear uniforms (check), serve coffee in mugs (check), and require you to pay at the counter so you interact with the establishent (check). FnW is not 100 percent traditional (after all, the menu’s offerrings are based mostly on coffees and waffles) but that should be easy to look past after one visit for any diner purists. The service is friendly and accomodating, food and drinks come quick and they keep better hours than most of the diners in Syracuse (8:30am-4pm Sun-Tues, open til midnight Wed-Sat).
FnW’s menu has expanded recently and it offers something for everyone (even if you don’t want the obvious item). They do their best to serve local ingredients and fair trade beverages as well. Waffles are certainly the best bet as they are what the business was founded on but no matter if you want something traditional, modernly sweeter or a savory take, FnW probably has it. You can get everything from pulled pork or brownie ala mode to falafel and Thanksgiving Dinner served waffle style. In honor of the funk, I opted for an Earth, Wind and Fire (honey, walnuts and bananas on whole-wheat wafle) for just $6. I’ve never had anything besides a perfectly cooked waffle from here – light, slight crisp on the outside and warm to the point it feels like it melts in your mouth at times. On the EWF, all the ingredients taste fresh while complimenting each other without taking focus off the waffle itself. It’s a sweet breakfast that won’t leave you reeling from a sugar crash later in the day.
Before dismissing FnW in favor of something more traditionally “diner,” realize that perhaps this is where the culture should be going. You can still get your bacon and eggs but FnW strives to offer much more in all phases of the game – menu selection, use of the space, ambiance and innovation. Their committment to the community with local ingredients and frequent hosting of local fundraisers only furthers their value. FnW may not look like a diner your parents grew up with, but they are serving the ‘Cuse community better than nearly anyone else.
The Final Tab
Pros: Original/engaging restaurant concept, local ingredients and support of local community, creative and expansive menu, excellent coffee selections, local favorite ambiance
Cons: Waffles may get a bit pricey compared to greasy spoons, but you get quality for your buck (also cheap for M Street)
Five out of Five (Robust breakfast platter | Go early and often to the point you can say, “I’ll have the usual.”)