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The Gem Diner

When my family first moved to Syracuse, the locals were quick to introduce us to some important Syracuse traditions, chief among them salt potatoes, The Regatta, Suburban Park, and The Little Gem Diner. There are places, activities, and foods (especially foods!) that are simply part of the fabric of a city, and you don’t really “know” the city til you’ve experienced them.

“Why the name change?” I wanted to know, and owner Doug Lalone chuckled. He said he’s asked that question frequently, still, though the name has been “The Gem” since it was expanded from 46 seats to 150 shortly after the Montreal Construction company purchased the land and building about 7 years ago. “With the expansion, we wanted people to know it was larger, and under new ownership, but still the “gem” they knew and loved.”

And having been a Syracuse landmark for nearly 70 years, it is one of those places locals, new and old, quickly do come to love and look forward to visiting.

According to Paste Magazine (www.pastemagazine.com), the all-American diner “concept … began when Walter Scott, a Rhode Island entrepreneur, repurposed a horse-pulled wagon into a car that served sandwiches, coffee, pies and eggs to people late at night.” Quick, hearty, delicious, and available at all hours of the day and night were just what the American worker ordered, and soon, diners were cropping up all over the northeastern United States.

While the diner atmosphere is predictable and anything but pretentious —a diner will always feature a counter, and often a kitchen visible to the patrons— it’s the variety and quality of food, and the convenience of the expanded hours, that keep people coming back. Doug, and now son Anthony LaLone, the general manager of The Gem, are true to that tradition.

“Our menu is 6 pages,” said Doug LaLone. “We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day – and while dinner is officially from 5pm on, there’s hardly a day goes by when we aren’t serving blueberry pancakes and a filet mignon to the same table at the same time.” “Our burgers are very popular,” LaLone reflects. “Maybe it’s because people want that fresh ground meat, really cooked the way they want it, from rare —really rare— to well done -and hot. I’m really particular about that. I tell my cooks, my wait staff, the food goes out hot.”

The work is a challenge, with cooks and wait staff needing to be familiar with a 6-page menu and up to 7 specials a day —at each meal— but with staff that has been with The Gem since LaLone opened in 2011, it’s also clearly a labor of love. LaLone told me proudly that he has “the best cooks in the city.” Those same cooks helped the Doug LaLone-Len Montreal team test menu items for the New York City style grille and tavern that they recently opened as The Preserve, down near the Creek Walk. “They’d try a recipe, and the ones that worked made the menu.” Versatility is clearly one of The Gem cooks’ specialties

If you were to poll Syracusans about their favorite Gem dish, some would insist it’s the fretattas (you can get them with mixed meat and vegetables, veggie only or meat lovers style), and others like the home-made comfort foods, like meat loaf, or the veal parm, or chicken riggies. “We have customers who eat here four or five times a week,” LaLone told me.

“We found our niche,” he continued. “Our theory is, if it ain’t broke … our customers love to come here, and they come here expecting The Gem experience. My cooks have carte blanche to try out new things, and they do. But we also continue to serve the things people expect.”

The Gem truly is a part of the Syracuse community. Besides fulfilling people’s expectations of “fine diner,” and filling their appetite with good, hearty food, The Gem is involved in community projects of all kinds. “Breast cancer is one of our causes, and the Veterans. But one of our biggest is Challenger Baseball.”

The Challenger League in Syracuse is the oldest Little League program for special needs children (from 4-year-olds to “kids” of 65!) in the country, and has its own “Field of Dreams” in the Willis Carrier Recreation Park, and The Gem is a proud sponsor and participant in the program.

“We’ve been busy since we opened,” LaLone said. “We employ 45 people, serve 1400 meals a day on the weekends, and we love what we do.” For the great American diner business, and for a Syracuse tradition known as The Gem, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Located on the west side of Syracuse, just five minutes
    down the road from Destiny USA.
832 Spencer St.
Syracuse, NY 13204
(315) 314-7380

 

Hours:

Tuesday – Saturday:  6am – 10 pm

Sunday:  6 am – 7pm

Monday — Closed

Christmas Eve – Closed

Christmas Day – Closed

Wednesday 12/26 – Regular Hours

New Year’s Eve – Closed

New Year’s Day – Regular Hours

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.