312 Park St
Syracuse, NY 13203
My favorite stop of the Syracuse trip, bar none. Even better than Dinosaur BBQ, which I loved with only minor reservations. And to think that I wouldn’t have made it here at all were it not for a sandwich place that I didn’t even get to visit.
Let me back up.
The menu at Darwin looked delicious and it was second on my list to visit. They are, however, a lunch-only establishment, and all my lunches were being handled. So, no Darwin. I did some poking around the website and found that Darwin was run by the people from Riley’s. So, figured I, next best thing.
By the time I got to Riley’s, though, the thought of a full-blown entree was too much. That and I noticed about three things on the dessert board that sounded delicious, so I was going to need to save room.
That said, maddest of all props to the Riley’s menu. On one side, you’ve got a standing selection of burgers, sandwiches, and sides. Everything I tried on that side (read: one thing (because it was so delicious that I didn’t bother moving on)) was outstanding. It’s the other side that’s impressive, though. A hand-written menu of dishes that changes daily, complete with illustrations. We’re not talking about a big place here. It’s a small neighborhood tavern. I’d love to know who on the staff has time to create that thing daily, but I really do appreciate the time that goes into its creation, as well as the herculean task of creating new dishes every night to populate it with. My co-worker Todd got a scallop in pineapple curry dish the second night I was there and it was spot on, with the sear on the scallops being particularly impressive.
As I scanned the sandwiches and burgers, the Knickerbocker was the only thing that wasn’t easily sussed. When I asked the waitress, she let me know it was an open faced sandwich with turkey, ham, cole slaw, tomato, and Russian dressing on rye, served either hot or cold. I was hooked by the description alone and got it hot. I chose very well. It’s a saucy, messy fork-only sandwich that comes out on the plate as a glorious mound of food. The sweet dressing combined with the rough-cut slaw and the salt of the ham was just about perfect. It’s clear that they roast their own turkey in house, as it was Thanksgiving fresh but also featured in one of the entrees. I loved this sandwich enough to make it back the second night and order it again.
It’s served with Irish chips, a fried potato side that hits notes from crisp potato chip all the way to fluffy french fry depending on how thick each chip was cut. The overall effect is like some mad culinary instructor’s lesson in the Maillard reaction. They are unsalted but served with malt vinegar, and they are highly addictive. There’s a bit of joy in grabbing one after the other and waiting to see if you’ve gotten one of the thicker, softer chips or a dark, caramelized crispy one.
Dinner was topped off with a slice of chocolate chip walnut rum pie. I’ll let that combination wash over you for a moment. It’s twice as good as it sounds. I took them back to the hotel to eat, and the second night the server gave me the tip that a few second in the microwave would turn things gooey and lovely. He was not wrong, though the unwarmed version was good on its own.
For Wednesday and Thursday nights, it was plenty crowded. That said, I’m surprised that there aren’t lines out the door for this place. It was pretty perfect both nights and I can’t wait for my next trip back.