Atmosphere doesn’t always tell a restaurant’s full story

A restaurant’s atmosphere is not mission critical,  as maybe you can tell by the restaurants and diners I tend to visit, but it can be an important factor on how well I enjoy a dining experience.

My family and I were driving around the city of Johnstown, about 45 miles west of Albany, last Friday in search of somewhere to eat. We were stopping in the Fulton County seat before driving a couple more hours the next day to visit Middlebury College in Vermont.

In Johnstown, one of the “Glove Cities,” we drove by the interesting-looking historic Union Hall restaurant on Main Street, but passed it by. We had scoped it out beforehand, and it was a little pricey for what we wanted that night. 

The other downtown restaurants were closed, except for the Hot Dog Hut Cafe, which I could not coerce Wife L and Daughter B to try.  The other place Wife L had read about was Romana’s Italian Kitchen, and we decided to look for that one. My Spidey senses were tingling when we found it because it was at the end of a strip mall that also housed a Chinese buffet and a Dollar Tree store, which I detest just a little less than Dollar General stores that also sell cheap crap from China.

The cool “atmosphere” factor at Romana’s is the dude pictured at right. I know that is not saying much, but it did spark some conversation as we slid into our booth and took in the drop-ceiling and rather pedestrian appointments. But, boy, was the food awesome, shoving the atmosphere into the backseat and out of the conversation.

I had a wonderful special — Chicken Florentine. It was supposed to be chicken medallions but it was really four good-sized chicken breasts sautéed with fresh spinach, chunks of tomato, and feta cheese, all  served on top of perfectly cooked angel hair pasta. It was a real treat, and I could not come close to finishing. I wish I had not eaten as much of the pedestrian salad as I did, and of course I had trouble passing up  the warm delicious Italian bread.

Wife L ordered the steak special, which was a N.Y. strip with a bleu cheese sauce. The steak was tender and had a wonderful flavor, and the bleu cheese was a perfect accompaniment. Her side dish was pasta with the restaurant’s red sauce, which Wife L reported was OK but nothing spectacular.  Daughter B had wonderful plate of chicken and broccoli over linguine, cooked with olive oil and garlic. A great dish with subtle flavors.

We made up for the lack of atmosphere at Romana’s the next morning when we ventured into the Miss Johnstown Diner, which is downtown on Main Street. It’s old. It’s a dive. It was missing the seat from one of its counter stools and a couple others seemed to be barely hanging on. I loved it.

It was busy as a bunch of bicyclists were refueling before heading east to Saratoga Springs, the final leg in a bike ride that started in Niagara Falls. Amazing.

A mother and daughter tag team were busy taking care of all of us and apologizing for the wait, which was minimal.  I loved eating blueberry pancakes in this narrow throwback to another time before McRib sandwiches and Whoppers even existed. These were the places you’d stop during a road trip to enjoy a homemade meal at reasonable prices. You still can! 

Our tab for three breakfasts? $12.21. Granted, Daughter B only had one pancake, but c’mon. That’s crazy. Crazy good stuff.

Miss Johnstown Diner


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