Chuck Wagon Diner
Route 20, Duanesburg, 356-3003. Serving 6 AM-8 PM daily. D,
breakfast and burgers and such
price range: $4 (Lone Ranger burger) to $12 (fisherman
is a vintage silver diner that started life two generations
and a time zone away. It was the Chuck Wagon in Champaign,
Ill., until 1976, when the building already was 20 years old.
It bounced across the state—Villa Grove to Urbana to Homer—before
winding up in Michigan in 2002. Tom and Sally Ketchum bought
the diner late in 2007, at which point it was languishing,
shuttered in Detroit and, says Sally, about in the shape you’d
expect of a building in such a circumstance.
The Ketchums moved the structure to Princetown, and news of
its travel attracted the attention of the person who’d bought
the original Chuck Wagon sign at a 1976 auction and stored
it thereafter. You see it in front of the diner now, reunited—as
is the diner’s original foyer, which was also separated during
the many moves and, against all odds, relocated. A Seeburg
jukebox, same age as the building, stocked with 45s, sits
just inside the diner. You can drop quarters there or choose
selections from tableside units. Green is the dominant indoor
color, topping the tables and stools and kitchen door.
As soon as my friend Malcolm and I were seated, Sally Ketchum
perched on a nearby stool and determined where we were from
and what brought us here—which explained how she was able
to greet so many others by name as they arrived.
Let’s take a quick look at the breakfast menu before choosing
dinner. The Working Man’s Quick and Easy Breakfast presents
five items priced from $3.25 to $4.50, featuring a hard roll
with an egg or two and a choice of the typical sides: cheese,
ham, bacon, sausage. And coffee. Breakfast tops out at $11
for steak and eggs, but you’ll stay in the $4 to $9 range
with the array of waffles, French toast and buttermilk pancakes,
the price going up only when you slap some sides onto the
plate. Corned beef hash is homemade, served with home fries
and toast, and it’s $7.29 on one side of the page, $7 in the
Breakfast Specials box on the other. The best deal may be
the Big Two, which gives you a deuce apiece of eggs, pancakes,
bacon, sausage and toast with home fries. All for a mere eight
Lunch and dinner items cover three pages, beginning with French
onion soup ($4) and homemade chili ($3.29/$5), augmented by
soup specials ($2.29/$3.29), one of which, when I visited,
was corn chowder. It’s homemade, too, but a victim of the
fate of many a cream soup that goes through vicissitudes of
temperature: The base had broken. Good flavor, though.
Have soup with a salad (garden or Caesar) or half a sandwich
for $6. Salads alone are $4 for house, 50 cents more for Caesar
and $7 for chef, with additions of tuna, chicken or egg salad
for another $2. Or do what we did and throw dietary caution
away with the Chuck Wagon Snack Platter. This $9 plate gives
an appetizer tour with a half-dozen wings (usually $6), a
pair apiece of mozzarella sticks (a full order is $6) and
chicken fingers ($6). Basic stuff, served with barbecue sauce,
marinara sauce and blue cheese dressing. Nothing ambitious
or surprising here.
Malcolm was there for a burger, but decided to forego the
cowboy-related selections (Lone Ranger, Hi-Ho Silver, Charles
Goodnight, each with a variation of cheese and other extras,
priced from $4 to $6) and even the Elvis (mushrooms and blue
cheese on toasted rye, $6) in favor of the Fats Domino, where
(for $6.59) he got two patties, bacon, onions, and Swiss cheese.
Although it’s ordinarily served with chips and a pickle, you
can upgrade to fries for an extra $2. Malcolm went even more
of a distance and asked for sweet potato fries, which set
off his grub nicely. The burger itself was good of its kind,
certainly far superior to the fast-food variety that’s creeping
into this kind of price range.
There’s a selection of deli sandwiches in the $6 range, club
sandwiches for less than $8, and you can buy the cold cuts
by the pound, which only makes sense. Hot sandwiches ($8)
feature the likes of turkey, roast beef and meat loaf, while
the classic Reuben ($8) is among the Grilled Sandwich Specials
set off in their own menu box. That’s where grilled cheese
($4) and hot dogs ($1.79) live—diner stalwarts.
When I go back, and I will go back, I’ll have the pan-seared
liver ($10). Too rarely seen, too good to turn down. But I
was tempted even more by the Yankee pot roast ($10), which
broke no culinary ground, I’m afraid. Oh, the meat was tender
enough, but the thick, dark sauce and the scoop of mashed
potatoes made no impressive flavor statements, while the vegetable
was a monkey dish (to use a restaurant term) of bland, canned
Like the music that runs in the background, food is a background
activity to diner visiting as a social event. On this level,
the Chuck Wagon works very well.
Big, impressive-looking desserts went by as we finished our
meals, but we’d punished ourselves enough with the deep-fried
goods and could see that the outsourced sweet stuff was no
different than any other such offering—although I spied whipped
cream coming out of a pastry bag, which is commendable.
Princetown doesn’t have much in the way of sit-down eateries,
so this could be a gold mine. Just remember: You’re not going
for the food.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Day Nursery’s 11th
annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz
& More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today
(Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at
Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady).
The “more” part of the proceedings includes a
cornucopia of food, including a carving station
with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station,
an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want
to fetch your food, circulating trays with even
more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken,
a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington,
spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary
beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz
part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends.
The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice
of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress
Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady
Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are
$50 per person or $100 for honorary committee
status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn
at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps