First off, this is a Diner, with a capital D; this is not Chez Panisse. The metrics used to evaluate a rock concert differ from those of a classical concert. That said, this place rocks: if you're looking for the Classic, Authentic American Diner Experience in a place filled to capacity with friendly locals, this is the place.
On a map, Herkimer is exactly half-way between us and my in-laws, so we decided to meet in the middle for lunch -- which is how we came to discover Crazy Otto's via tripadvisor (of course!). When we arrived in downtown Herkimer, though, we couldn't find it: that's because the giant shiny "Empire Diner" letters surmounting the facade don't spell "Crazy Otto's". But after a moment's confusion we determined we were at the right place. (I'm still not sure how these names relate to each other...)
We went for Sunday brunch, and it was packed. There was a line spilling onto the sidewalk waiting to get in. I expect this is probably typical for every weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case throughout the week. Clearly this is a popular place.
And it's easy to see why. And no, it's not because it's the only place in town. Herkimer, like so many other towns in upstate New York, has been hard hit by the downturn. Crazy Otto's feels like a nostalgic oasis of pleasantry and good times, a place of welcome and heaping mounds of food for all.
Of course the portions are big. This is a Diner, with a capital D, so everything is big about Crazy Otto's: the size of the menu, the amount of food that arrives on your plate, the local color, the Americana that fills every inch of wallspace... even the bonhomie. The staff are some of the nicest people in the restaurant business, and go out of their way to make you feel like one of the family. The one thing that isn't huge is the boothspace and the general layout, but that's not surprising given how packed the place is.
It's no wonder the locals love it. While we were there we saw a lucky soul at the counter get a free meal from a spin of a wheel by the kitchen entrance. That was cool. This is a place that knows its importance to its community, and I appreciated that a great deal.
Ultimately, this is a place more about community than just being a restaurant. This is an authentic Place finding its way amid a processed world where consumers are just units to be processed themselves. No, here at Crazy Otto's you feel the humanity. That makes this place something special.
Heaping portions of Classic Diner food served by super-friendly people in a Classic Diner setting suffused with local color... Yeah, we'll be back.
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