Sitting in the shadows of the old Bethlehem Steel complex and massive sky-slicing wind turbines, the Woodlawn Diner has been around in one form or another since the 1950s and a recent change of ownership brought with it a retro upgrade.
New owners (and siblings) Keith Hooper and Diane Hassett have taken the old diner back to the future, replete with a 50s-style makeover. If you like 45s on the wall, mini jukeboxes on your table and large HDTVs above the counter seating, this is your place.
Thankfully, the revamp is purely cosmetic. The seats are reupholstered but the counters, booths, stools, stainless steel backsplash and even the milkshake makers are all from the original diner.
Most importantly, the Woodlawn Diner has kept its low-key, no-nonsense soul. That’s vital. Almost nobody opens a new diner anymore, but you can’t swing a stick without hitting a new taqueria, brewery or wood-fired pizza place. And yet, diners still occupy an essential space in our collective psyche. They’ve been a popular local destination for decades, whether it’s after a long night of drinking or after church service.
The surroundings at the Woodlawn Diner may be a bit of a throwback, but that doesn’t mean the food is a throwback to the bad, old days of Betty Crocker. A complete overhaul of the kitchen has given head cook Missy Jenkins and her staff better equipment and more room. The addition of a grill top allows cooks to grill chicken, ribs and burgers – as opposed to cooking them on a flat-top.
The menu at the new Woodlawn Diner still has all the upstate New York diner essentials: pancakes, eggs, burgers, Reuben sandwiches, you know the rest. On our recent visit, the hamburger on a Costanzo’s roll was perfectly crisp, with hot greasy onion rings that tasted like childhood memories. A solid two-buck coffee added up to a pretty cheap lunch.
The new owners recently told us that the diner will switch over to a summer menu during the warm weather and it will include hot dogs, baked beans, macaroni salad and potato salad. Located just a stone’s throw from Woodlawn Beach, Hooper says he’s hoping to attract the warm weather crowd as they come into or leave the Blasdell neighborhood.
At the end of the day, though, the Woodlawn Diner is still al about serving its regulars – people who have been going there since the 1950s.
“The feedback from regulars has been amazing,” Hooper muses. “The true regulars that know the place inside and out are having a ‘wow’ moment. They love the modern retro 50s feel.”
“It’s clean and new, but it also takes you back in time.”
HHours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Wednesday to Sunday 6 a.m. – 3 p.m.
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