OSWEGO — There are few signs of summer stronger than the reopening of Rudy’s.
The lakeside eatery has been an Oswego establishment, slinging out hot dogs and hamburgers and frying just about every kind of seafood you’d want since 1946.
There are a few tables scattered around the large main counter, but most customers opt for the spacious outdoor seating, perched right along Lake Ontario. And for good reason, as I firmly believe that most food tastes better when eaten outside, especially when that outside is the shore of a Great Lake. The only thing that could top it might be a beachside spot with my bare feet tucked into loose sand, but that’s for another time. We’re in Oswego after all.
During my undergrad years at SUNY Oswego, many a day in late spring involved a fried haddock sandwich ($6.25). There’s no bright-yellow, raincoated fisherman involved here and a freezer is nowhere to be found.
Nope, just a huge hunk of freshly fried fish and a standard hamburger bun that can’t begin to cover the long piece of haddock. I’m not even sure if two hamburger rolls would be able to contain the whole filet.
The beauty lies in the simplicity: fresh fish, bread and a side of tartar sauce. The half-slice of American cheese, the strange topping choice of a certain fast-food fish sandwich, is fortunately absent.
This sandwich, eaten recently, was not my first and certainly will not be my last and to this day ranks among the best I’ve had. The fish is thick, so it retains the tender, flaky interior without becoming overcooked.
It’s too easy to think that breaded and fried fish is going to taste good no matter what, and that’s somewhat true (except for the rare filet-o breed), but when you take those first few bites of fish sticking outside of the bun, you know there is a difference and Rudy’s does it right.
For all the land lubbers out there, there are plenty of non-seafood options. Somewhere between the Plattsburgh Michigan and the Detroit Coney lies the Texas Hot, oddly a staple of Rochester and Western New York. Don’t get too concerned that the geographical name means nothing to the actual geography of the dish. Go to Nathan’s down in Coney Island and you won’t find Coney sauce, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find Texas sauce down in the Lone Star State. The difference between the two are unclear, but I believe Texas sauce is a bit thinner, saucier and spicier, while Coney sauce is chunkier and has a vinegar kick, but that could be completely wrong. An expert opinion on this is very much appreciated.
Rudy’s has both Texas Hots and Coneys, which of course can mean a red hot dog, or a white beef-free dog, or vice versa, or none of the above. Who knows? Well here at Rudy’s, a Texas is a red hot, while a Coney is a white hot. I think.
The plain frank goes for $2.24, but you’d be a fool to not go for the hot option ($2.85), which adds yellow mustard, chopped onion and Rudy’s homemade Texas hot sauce. It may be called hot sauce, but this is no Tabasco. It’s made up of finely ground meat and various spices which the establishment keeps a closely guarded secret.
Along with the beef, there’s definitely tomato, onion and a few splashes of vinegar, which I mentioned before. Chili powder? Possibly. I went for the Texas hot this afternoon and I finished the dog, admittedly, before I could get to the bottom of the sauce. Good thing they sell the stuff by the pint too ($4.60).
Steamed clams were a special that day, so my dining companion and I split a dozen of those too. Sand and grit inside steamers is the latest addition to my growing list of food-related tragedies — but crisis was averted once again this day. Like the fish, the clams are simply prepared: steamed and served in a paper tray with a side of melted butter for dipping. They won’t blow you away, but each clam had just the right amount of ocean flavor, which was nice, since we were eating them while overlooking the water.
My dining companion went with the shrimp and crab salad roll ($6.45). The butter-griddled hot dog roll could barely contain the heaping scoops of cold salad. It’s no surprise that there’s a bit of imitation crab in there, but it doesn’t get in the way of the good shrimp flavor. I would have gone for another sprinkle of salt, but I still snuck in a second bite after I ate my first (generous) review bite.
The shrimp and crab roll is around the same price as the haddock sandwich, and it would be tough for me to opt for it over the fish, but it is still quite good. I think the buttered roll, browned on the griddle until golden brown, should be the standard for everything. Rest assured, I will be ordering my next Coney, or Texas, or Michigan, or red hot, or white hot, or whatever it is, with that bun.
Various sodas and fountain lemonade and iced tea are available. If I didn’t have a drive back to Watertown ahead of me, I would have gone for a few $2.25 Genny Creams and stayed for awhile.
So sit at the picnic table, breathe in the misty air coming off the lake, take a bite of your sandwich and you’ll be part of the Rudy’s eating experience that is tough to beat.
Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In
78 County Route 89, Oswego
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Rudy’s is seasonal. Opens in mid-March and closes in mid-October.
4 1/2 spoons