GOUVERNEUR Park anywhere you want, I dont care
There are only three or four parking spots in front of The Donut Shop on West Main Street, and they were all filled. So we parked behind the little diner amid signs warning DONT PARK HERE for one reason or another.
When we entered the little eatery, we asked the big guy behind the counter doing the cooking if it was OK that wed parked out back. We werent sure if a) he was having a bad day, b) he didnt like our looks, or c) he really didnt care where we parked.
Walking in was like walking back in time. It looked like so many small diners that dotted the countryside in the 60s. It was half full of customers mostly men in work clothes or camouflage. And as with most small neighborhood places, all eyes turned as we entered.
We took our seats at the counter in front of the grill where all the action was. The first thing we noticed was a hamburger the size of a meatloaf sizzling on the grill. We asked the big guy about the big burger.
Theyre more than half a pound, he said as he hacked into a tube of burger meat with a dull serrated knife. Theyre gonna shrink when they cook, ya know. He continued to tell us that he makes a monster burger thats a full pound.
After he took care of the regulars by shouting, Hey Larry, you having the omelet with the hash today? and Jimmy, Ive got your tuna melt on special today, he turned to us and asked, So what are you gonna have, guys?
Luckily Id snagged a menu from one of the small tables while he was taking care of everyone else. The place was filling up, so we got our order in for poutine,a marinated chicken burger (we do that right here) and, from the specials board, grilled ham and cheese with soup of the day (made it fresh this morning).
After we chummed up to the big guy by asking some pertinent food questions, he turned into a big pussycat. We were official members of the Donut Shop social club!
We didnt have to ask about the hash. It came straight from a big can of Hormel corned beef hash sitting open on the prep counter. A big blob of it sizzling on the flattop grill actually looked pretty good!
We did ask about the burger buns that he cut in half with each burger order. We make those right here. We make all our breads right here, even the English muffins.
From our vantage point, we could peek into the back prep area and see large commercial baking equipment. We supply some of the local restaurants with their breads and rolls, too, he told us.
Lunch hour was in full swing, and the grill was jammed with burgers, buns, bacon and breads. The big guy managed to Frisbee a round of deli ham six feet from the sandwich station to the grill. Down went the fries in the little tabletop fryer. The chicken was carefully placed on the grill right between a sizzling burger and a tuna melt ready to be plated.
Our poutine was up first, a big rimmed soup bowl hand-plated with hot fries, shredded mozzarella and a large ladleful of brown gravy from a pot simmering on a portable burner. There were no plates or silverware supplied, so we just picked at it with our fingers, assuming that was the way it was done at The Donut Shop, pulling the fries toward the ceiling to release them from the stringy mozzarella.
Someones tuna melt was being made to order. The big guy opened a little can of tuna fish, dumped it in a small bowl, mixed it with some mayo and spooned it onto the bread on the grill over a slice of American cheese that had now melted.
Our soup of the day hit the counter next, another rimmed soup bowl, overflowing with homemade tomato macaroni beef. It needed some salt and seasonings and more chicken stock, but other than that, it was OK.
The grilled ham and cheese sandwich arrived on homemade white bread, the warmed deli ham between two slices of gooey American cheese, grilled just right with the proper grease factor on the bread. It was sliced in half right on the grill and served on a plain plate all by itself.
The marinated chicken burger was up next. Its available grilled or fried; we went with grilled. No machine-shaped meat product here, but a slice of real chicken breast not quite as generous as their burgers. For choice of cheese we picked provolone. The made-on-site roll had a fine texture like a dinner roll but not quite as rich.
We were offered house-made garlic mayo, a simple mix of mayonnaise and powdered garlic. The plate was garnished with a couple of slices of tomato, reminding us that tomatoes in December are not a thing of gustatory beauty.
The big guy disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a head of wilted romaine needed to complete one of his sandwich orders. We asked him what was for dessert, and we were advised to go to the far end of the counter and check out the pastry display.
We expected to find an assortment of doughnuts after all, it is The Donut Shop but there were none. We assumed theyre made daily for breakfast and gone by lunchtime.
So we topped our lunch off with a slice each of peach and pineapple pie. They were baked on site with a good sugar crust, but we guessed the fillings came from a can.
An inexpensive lunch for two cost $22.90. The atmosphere priceless.
A pile of dirty plates and silverware next to us at the counter when we arrived was still there when we left. A customer sat at a stool next to us and didnt order a thing just jawed with some friends about his kids hockey game and his wifes impending baby. All part of the charm.
The Donut Shop is not Cracker Barrel. Its not Applebys. And youre not going to read about the place on Yelp or TripAdvisor.
Its The Donut Shop, a classic old-time, local gathering place where conversation and camraderie take precedence over monster burgers and homemade buns.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Donut Shop
274 W. Main St.
The Donut Shop is like a trip back in time, reminiscent of small diners that dotted the countryside back in the 60s.
HOURS: 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday
6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday