My sister lives on Long Island, where diners are more sit-down restaurant than chrome-walled roadside attractions. With full bars, massive menus and big screen televisions they draw a wide crowd. In Upstate America, a diner can be one of two things. The best case scenario is a greasy spoon with great breakfast and a menu that encompasses comfort food to the most complicated meal (not that anyone will ever order it, but its the effort that counts). On the flip side is the dumpy place you drive past and would never consider entering unless you were blind drunk and looking to offset some alcohol.
In Syracuse, we have Stella’s Diner. This is the gold standard of local diners and a case study in socioeconomic diversity. On any given day, you’ll see the working poor eating breakfast next to men in $500 suits. The Market Diner, B’ville Diner, Mother’s Cupboard, Gardenview Diner, and MaMa Nancy’s fall somewhere underneath Stella’s in the rankings of the best in town.
The Little Gem inhabited a corner at Liberty Ave. and Spencer St. in Syracuse for more years than anyone cares to remember. It was held up as a piece of our local history as one of the oldest chrome train-car style diners in the country and heralded by people of this ilk as a dying breed in eateries.
There’s a reason it was dying, of course. The food was terrible and the neighborhood is questionable. It didn’t hurt that the economy bottomed out, leaving the traditional diner diner at home. At the end, the owner’s $1.99 breakfast special couldn’t keep the doors open. It closed a little more than a year ago. Continue reading The Gem, or not so much