Apparently, the New Jersey/metropolitan NY diner tradition of a late-night sandwich or burger with a plate of onion rings doesn’t exist in Utica. Oh, there are diners, alright, plenty of them, in fact, but try finding one that’s open past 7PM. Seems most of them close after lunch, while a few push it to early evening. We searched hard for a diner open past 8PM on a Friday and were led to Top of the Morning Cafe.
Even Top of the Morning, with its breakfast-centric name, is shuttered by 2PM six days a week; Friday’s the only time they’re open through dinner, until the nite owl hour of 9PM! Friday is fish fry day in Upstate New York and Top of the Morning, like most local eateries, wants a piece of the action.
That fish fry is one of the best in town, a hefty length of haddock with juicy flesh encased in a crackly crust. They’ve got all that haddock for the fish fry folks, so naturally they present it in all sorts of ways on Friday. This particular Friday evening the specials menu offered haddock a la Sinatra (your guess is as good as ours as to how Ol’ Blue Eyes enjoyed his haddock), Francaise, Parm, Florentine, or stuffed with greens and crab meat. That’s in addition to the regular menu options of broiled, Oreganato, Marinara, or over greens. Ah, greens! There’s another clue you’re in Utica.
At breakfast, served all day, they offer another Utica specialty, giambotte. You see giambotta, an Italian vegetable stew, elsewhere (and in Trenton, NJ it usually signifies a steak or pork chop garnished with fried peppers and potatoes), but in Utica it refers to a hefty scrambled egg dish that contains, more or less, hot and sweet peppers, potatoes, onions, Utica greens, and Italian sausage, topped with melted mozzarella. Vegetarian versions are common.
Top of the Morning calls themselves a cafe, and they’re in a small strip mall, but once you step inside the brightly lit restaurant, spy the unclothed tables set with ketchup and hot sauce, and look at the menu, its diner bona fides are unmistakable. The waitresses are wonderful, the owner/cook stops by to check on things and, yes, the onion rings are up to snuff.
414 Trenton Road Utica NY 13502 315-507-3141 No website Top of the Morning Cafe on Facebook
BEST THING TO EAT: Fish fry