Join us downtown this week to visit a classic Ithaca location reborn as the Prize Diner. Right across from the State Theatre, this remodeled eatery is open for breakfast and lunch daily, serving simple, homestyle meals to happy customers. The erstwhile Ithaca Diner closed several months ago, and the new owners spent a couple of months refurbishing before reopening in December.
Shiny as the new diner is, it retains the charm of the bygone era, complete with long counter in front of the grill, and padded stools bolted to the floor. Booth tables occupy the other wall, and we love the half-booth at the front that consists of just one banquette facing out the window.
Starting with breakfast is always a good idea, and if you like to start your morning the way I do, the coffee grinder with fresh beans, instead of packets of coffee ground miles and months away, puts the Prize Diner's coffee a notch above the rest.
They'll make your eggs however you like, the blueberry pancakes are made by adding real blueberries at the last minute, and the corned beef hash comes out crispy, just the way I like it.
At lunchtime, the homemade clam chowder kicks off a great meal, hot and chunky and with plenty of clams. We've also enjoyed the chicken soup, packed with chicken.
There are thick, juicy burgers, of course you can get grilled cheese on whatever kind of bread strikes your fancy, but I'm going to recommend the turkey club. They roast and slice the turkey right here, so the generous pile of turkey on the sandwich is fresh and tender. The same freshly roasted turkey makes an appearance on the hot turkey sandwich, one of those ultimate comfort-food dishes that diners are known for.
We love the fries, as well, and we think our listeners who muse about where to find Ithaca's best french fries would do well to stop in at the Prize Diner. They've been hand-cutting their own.
There's often a special or two on the board, such as a hearty meatloaf dinner. Two thick slices of meatloaf are studded with slivers of carrot, but the rest of the recipe's a secret. Add mashed potatoes with gravy and the vegetable of the day for a lunch that'll tide you over for hours. Or the Italian chicken sandwich special featured real boneless chicken rather than a patty.
For now, the diner's hours are 5:30am to 3:00pm, but the owners are considering adding dinner and late-night hours, especially on the weekend. If you'd avail yourself of that, don't hesitate to let them know. We know some folks don't consider an eatery a "diner" unless it's open 24 hours a day, but of course not every neighborhood can sustain that business model.
Plan on spending four to ten bucks on breakfast or lunch. Call 607-277-1407 or stop in at the Prize Diner at 116 West State Street, just west of the Commons, and tell Helen and Kris you heard about them here.