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The ups and downs of Potsdam’s The Hop

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POTSDAM — You can’t help but like the feel of The Hop.

It’s a classic ’50s-style diner with the counter embracing the grill, so there are no secrets kept from the customers. It’s like being at a “chef’s table” in a fancy restaurant without having to pay the fat chef’s table fee.

Unfortunately, the fact that there are no secrets allowed us to quickly see that things weren’t going to go exactly as planned. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In keeping with traditional diners, the menu is compact and grill-oriented: six variations of burgers (including a veggie burger), three variations of hot dogs (including a corn dog), three variations of grilled cheese, two club sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, two BLTs and two PBJs. Plus a complete selection of deep-fried favorites.

And they do serve a traditional breakfast menu whenever they are open.

We deliberately arrived just before the noon lunch rush on a Saturday to catch the place at its best. We grabbed four stools in the middle of the long counter right in front of the grill so we could catch the show.

Beverages first. Coffees and water were not a problem. A vanilla milkshake was.

There wasn’t any ice cream in the freezer, so the cook’s assistant/waitress put on her coat and headed to the local Stewart’s. That left the cook to take orders — and cook — all by himself.

Not a problem with just the four of us there, but as the clock struck noon, the place started to quickly fill up — as though a bus had pulled up outside.

It seemed like forever until the ice cream lady came back with the goods. By that time, every seat at the counter was filled, as were most of the tables toward the back of the long, narrow restaurant. The crowd even overflowed onto a deck overlooking the Raquette River out back and to tables on the sidewalk out front.

The grill guy was now at work on our order: a jalapeno cheeseburger ($8), a turkey club ($6), an egg salad sandwich ($4) and something called a “barnyard sandwich” ($10).

You’re wondering what a barnyard sandwich is, right? Let’s start there.

It’s a small beef patty, a thick, narrow piece of chicken, two slices of bacon and a slice of cheese stacked between two pieces of toast.

While it sounded great, it was disappointing. It was a bunch of “stuff” piled between two pieces of bread. The burger was overcooked (we asked for medium) and the chicken was dry. And for the price, not a great value.

A small portion of home fries accompanied. They were bland and unevenly cooked — some were crispy with a soft center, others were lightly cooked and hard.

The jalapeņo cheeseburger had similar problems. The order, given directly to the cook, was for “Medium-rare to rare, please — I want it still mooing!”

We watched the meat go on the grill. After three or four minutes on one side, it was flipped and then covered with a pie plate for at least five minutes. We knew right then that rare AND medium-rare were out of the question.

The cheeseburger arrived a solid medium-well, a generous, overcooked burger with pickled jalapeno slices and a slice of American cheese. The roll was good, though — white but solid; it would have been well suited to a juicy medium-rare burger.

We ordered the turkey club expecting a sandwich with turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and lots of mayo, sliced in quarters. We got what looked like a precooked turkey cutlet warmed on the grill (longer than the jalapeno burger, we observed), wilted lettuce, not much mayo and dry toast, suggesting old bread.

The sandwich didn’t seem well put together, either in terms of ingredients or presentation. Overall, underwhelming.

After ordering the egg salad sandwich, we got worried when the cook rummaged through a small fridge commenting, “Let me see if there’s any left here.”

Yikes — from when? But as soon as he found a container of the egg salad, he assured us that it “must have been made this morning.”

Other than needing some salt and pepper, it was just fine, served on soft, fresh wheat bread.

All the orders came with restaurant-supply waffle fries, which were nice and crisp and tasty. We appreciated Heinz ketchup and other name-brand condiments on the counter.

We tried deep-fried green beans ($5), another industrial frozen product. They were mostly breading. No bean taste as far as we could tell. We asked for some ranch dressing when the beans were served (twice, actually) and it took at least 10 minutes to finally arrive.

A laid-back Saturday lunch for four cost $40.66.

Paying for it was another dilemma. They use a cellphone credit card mobile processing gizmo. The card was swiped, the amount was entered and the phone was placed on the counter next to me for a signature.

I asked if a receipt would or could be sent to my email address, but they didn’t know how to do that.

The place seemed understaffed. The cooking area was not set up efficiently. While it was a nice gesture that the waitress ran across town to get ice cream for the milkshake, it put them behind. Several customers left after waiting 10 minutes and not getting menus.

The Hop had been closed for several years and opened under new management in July. We would have thought they would have worked out the kinks by now.

The diner atmosphere was clearly the high point. All in all, The Hop is a great place to go with friends if you’re looking for a nice place to chat and don’t mind run-of-the-mill food.

On a positive note, the milkshake they made was just right.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.





The Hop

3 Market St.

Potsdam, N.Y.

265-4898

A classic ’50s-style diner with the atmosphere clearly the high point

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. seven days a week

8:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday

The waffle fries are great. So are the milkshakes.

RATING: 2 forks

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