|It was my first-ever visit to this longstanding restaurant, and I felt as if I’d walked into somebody else’s house. Somebody very gracious, someone who’d been expecting me—but someone with a large, extended family who were enjoying the already-in-progress party.|
“We’ve been here 33 years,” says Gloria Adrikopoulos, who owns the Redwood Diner with her husband Peter. “We have a lot of friends in the neighborhood.”
I’m shocked to realize that I’ve been in this area for most of those years, yet never stopped in before. Now, as a result of that visit, I will be stopping in again. I’ve been adopted. Along with my family.
This friendliness is a little surprising. Or, to put it a more honest way, I’m instantly suspicious of such quick friendliness from anyone. I fear that the person is about to pitch Herbalife, or is simply insane.
The long, low building dates to 1963, when this part of Schenectady’s Hamburg Street must have been a different neighborhood indeed. Even in her three decades here, Gloria has seen many changes. “It’s very different,” she says, “but we have so many regular customers that it still feels like a small town. We see wonderful people every day, and we see their babies, and the next thing we know we’re seeing their babies’ babies.”
The menu’s fulcrum, available all day, is breakfast. That’s a diner-defining realm and includes a wide array of pancakes, French toast and egg preparations. Pancakes range from $4.55 for a naked stack, up to $7 when two eggs are added—and there’s sausage, ham and bacon (Canadian bacon for 20 cents more). Two eggs with toast is $4.25. Add potatoes for a quarter. The aforementioned meats are available with your hen fruit; so are corned beef hash ($6.85), pastrami and corned beef ($7.25 each), and the ultimate breakfast indulgence, steak ($14).
I’m guessing that the precision pricing reflects the restaurant’s desire to keep the prices as low as possible, and the a la carte nature of the offerings allows you to choose only as much as you want. You can even pare it down to a single egg for $3.45, with that side of meat an extra two bucks.
So my wife indulged her love of breakfast and had it for dinner, ordering two eggs over easy with an English muffin, which is an extra $1.55. It was as straightforward a serving as you’ll enjoy: Eggs. Home fries. English muffin. Dig in.
The more exotic eggish fare, the omelette, suffers from the preparation style that afflicts most short-order kitchens. It’s cooked to a point of dryness and lacks any notion of fluff. My daughter’s mushroom omelette ($7.35, the price of most of them) displayed its components (which also included green peppers) well worked into the raft of well-cooked eggs. But it was what we expected, so no surprise here.
Beyond breakfast, the menu takes off in a number of different directions. A long list of sandwiches starts with a modest hamburger for $3.55 and includes turkey, roast beef, ham, meatloaf, sausage and more, all in the $7 realm, as are specialty varieties like a Monte Cristo, clam fry, Greek gyro and a cheeseburger with fries and slaw.
There’s probably a law requiring old-fashioned diner menus to head a column “diet delights.” Here they are: a cottage cheese salad with fruit, a breadless burger with pineapple and hard-boiled egg and a (dietetically questionable) array of individual scoops of tuna, chicken and potato salad. Each plate is around $8.
“The menu hasn’t changed much since we opened,” says Gloria. “My children have been involved in the business over the years, and they’ve prompted some changes, but it’s pretty much what we started with.” It’s all homemade, I’m assured, although a few of the displayed desserts are brought in.
Dinners include Italian items like eggplant, chicken or veal parmigiana ($9.75, $11.75, $12), ravioli, ziti, or spaghetti ($8.25 each). And each comes with a cup of soup and salad.
Seafood selections are broiled (shrimp, scallops, haddock or combo plate, each in the $15 range) or fried (same as above, prices about the same). Like the rest of the dinners, each includes (pay attention now!) a cup of soup and a salad and potato and veg! So a baked ham dinner, say, for $11 is about as good a bargain as you’ll find.
Although I was tempted, as always, by the sautéed beef liver ($9.75), I zeroed in on the comfort factor of meatloaf ($9.45) with a cup of cream-of-broccoli soup, tossed salad with vinaigrette, mashed potatoes and a side of broccoli. It was . . . nothing outstanding. It was straight-ahead diner fare, with by-the-book meatloaf served as an array of small slices, covered with a very good gravy that livened the standard-issue potatoes as well. Broccoli soup was excellent if you like it, as I guiltfully do, thick and creamy; broccoli as a side dish verged on the flavorless but at least wasn’t the limp, overcooked lump I too often encounter. I’m guessing that all seasoning decisions here veer to the side of blandness so as not to frighten the aged clientele.
My friend Malcolm ordered the roasted half chicken ($10), which must have started as a fairly large bird given the amount of plate space the half of it covered. It was covered with a light gravy and served with applesauce, and was a tasty example of what a diner like this does best.
Although not menu-advertised as such, our dinners came with a small dessert, and a couple of dishes of good rice pudding made the table rounds.
“We listen to what our customers tell us,” Gloria says, “and we try to give back to them. We had a special recently of chicken parmigiana for $4.99. That’s the kind of thing we do. With a little bit of grace and kindness.”
The Redwood Diner
2688 Hamburg St., Schenectady, 355-9522. Serving 6 AM-10 PM Mon-Sat, 7 AM-10 PM Sun. MC, V.
Cuisine: classic diner
Entrée price range: $3.55 (hamburger) to $17 (sirloin steak dinner)
Ambiance: classic diner