Text & Photos By: Maria Moore
Stepping out from Marandino’s yesterday into the chilly, rainy day made me long for warm, comforting food and without a second thought for the pile of “to-dos” waiting at my home office I headed straight for the New Hartford Diner, an eatery that opened this past Monday in the Marandino’s plaza. As I made my way to the diner who should I see but a long-time woman friend with whom I hadn’t gotten together for way too long. All it needed was my asking “Wanna grab a cup of coffee together?” and she promptly called her work and told them she’d be back a little later than planned and then into the diner we headed.
Stepping into the previous Athena’s Pizza location, one is immediately struck by the transformation of that space. The interior has been painted white and is hung with attractive prints while the wall which bisects the two dining areas has been transformed from a visual obstacle into an attractive, decorative feature. Live plants sit in each of the alcoves, allowing patrons to see into the other room as they make their way to seat themselves at one of the spacious tables or one of the private booths. We made our way to a booth in a quiet corner, with my friend greeting at least a half-dozen people along the way. And later, as we ate, another long-time resident came over and chatted for a while.
Betta, our waitress and co-owner of the restaurant, brought over menus, came back with coffee, and then offered coffee refills as we glanced at the menu and then were caught up again in our conversation. Betta’s manner was relaxed as she told us in her charming Italian accent: “No rush, no rush at all.” Welcome words as we, too, relaxed and ate and chatted and stayed longer than either one had intended.
The atmosphere is excellent but what about the food? If you’re a diner aficionado as I am, you won’t be disappointed. The menu is filled with classic diner foods, among them: home-made soups, foot-long hotdogs, burgers, BLTs, clam rolls, and triple-decker club sandwiches. Breakfast choices fill the two center pages of the menu, with one page filled with 47 different omelets available!. My friend, who is a gifted cook and a long-time member of the International Cooking Club in town (perhaps one day, they’ll allow me to write about them), had trouble deciding what to order and changed her mind a half-dozen times until Betta appeared at our table and my friend ordered the fish filet on a hard roll, her most recent selection.
I had no trouble deciding on my order. There are certain foods which at first bite tell me all I want to know about the quality of the ingredients used and the expertise of the preparer. I saw one of my test items on the menu, a ‘Gyro on pita bread’ and I ordered it. Now, to compare the New Hartford Diner’s gyros with gyros I’ve eaten in the past is not exactly a fair comparison. My taste for gyros was formed over several years of wandering late at night on the Left Bank in Paris, the air filled with the smell of the spiced meat roasting on the slowly-turning spits. The gyros were delicious, cheap and of the highest quality, as Greek and Turkish vendors vied for the passing customers. Over the years I have moved many times and have eaten many bad gyros, most recently a gyro served up by the Gyro Palace in West Hartford. One bite of that unhappy sandwich and I knew not to bother making a trip to that restaurant again.
The New Hartford Diner’s gyro looked pretty displayed open face on the plate. The sauce was served on the side, allowing the customer to use as little as they wish. The only thing missing was the piece of foil that normally is wrapped around one end of the gyro, keeping the ingredients in place as the gyro is eaten like a sandwich, without the use of knife and fork. With the help of several napkins wrapped around the base of the pita bread, I ate my gyro with gusto. The thin slices of meat were moist and recently cooked and the vegetables were firm and freshly sliced. “Nice!” A nice gyro served up at our new, local diner.
Today, on my second visit to the diner, I heard several people compliment Betta on the quality of the food they had eaten, and I overheard her welcome back customer after customer to the establishment. One of those customers was Ron Miller, President of the New Hartford Business Council, who came and sat with me while his take-out order was being prepared. Ron allowed me to photograph his meal of fish and chips – a fried food enthusiast’s delight!
Stop by the New Hartford Diner and, as Betta joked with one returning customer, you have to try every item on the menu – and then start over again! We’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
The New Hartford Diner is located at 141 Main Street in the Marandino’s Plaza in the Pine Meadow section of New Hartford; tel. # 860-693-6430; no fax number is available. The diner is open 7 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Breakfast is served all day.