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Sun., Oct. 4
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A Retro lunch in Gouverneur


GOUVERNEUR —I’ll be honest with you.

I’ve been driving past the Retro diner in Gouverneur for nearly a year now. I think a business’s sign can say a lot about a place. The sign on the Retro’s storefront doesn’t exactly make you want to run in and check things out.

It’s kind of creepy, a cross between a bad junior high school art project and big city “subway art”—you know, where kids spray paint the sides of subway trains in a an attempt to make an artistic statement.

However, after a year, the neon “OPEN” sign in the front window is still glowing seven days a week. So it was time to venture inside and see what the Retro is all about.

We were the only patrons as we entered just before noon on a recent weekday. A waitress was sitting at the lunch counter watching a small TV. Another worker was behind the counter with his feet up, also watching TV.

A loud electronic “doorbell” announced our entry. Neither of the employees immediately acknowledged our presence. We gave the place a quick once-over and decided to seat ourselves in a booth against the wall.

We checked out the airbrushed murals on the walls (better executed than the storefront sign), lots of Coca-Cola and Pepsi memorabilia scattered around along with miniature vintage model cars on the counter, old 45 RPM records hanging from the ceiling — an attempt at suggesting the feel of a classic ’50’s diner.

The interior was quite clean except for the grimy floor-to-ceiling front windows that were seriously overdue for a washing. The TV was now turned off, replaced by oldies music coming from a small sound system by the counter.

We took a few minutes to peruse the menu — typical diner stuff, which we were perfectly OK with. And breakfast is served all day, our waitress confirmed.

Meanwhile, the obnoxious electronic doorbell/buzzer thing announced more patrons, two couples who occupied two additional booths. Counting three in our party, the seven-person lunch crowd was ready to be served.

The other four people placed their orders before us, which may be the reason our food didn’t start coming out for over a half hour.

You would have thought our waitress would have at least brought out the soup we ordered to keep us occupied, but she was too busy sitting on a lunch counter stool staring at the wall since the TV was now turned off.

When the tomato/macaroni/hamburger soup finally arrived, it was too hot to eat.

The soup was homemade, which we usually appreciate, but this one missed the mark. There was a film of grease floating on top that also managed to cling to the soup spoon and everything else that came in contact with it.

A hamburger was pretty basic, a small hand-formed patty cooked to well-done. We asked for grilled onions, which were not on the menu. We got a couple of small rings of onion that had been grilled for a moment, flipped for another moment, and served—basically still raw with a few grill marks.

Not exactly what we had in mind, but hey—it wasn’t on the menu so we really couldn’t complain.

A Western egg sandwich is scrambled eggs with onions, peppers and ham typically served between two pieces of toast. The Retro’s Western was OK, but the onions and peppers could have benefited from a few minutes alone on the flattop before being thrown into the scramble. The omelet, you might call it, was served between two slices of plain white bread, untoasted.

I was really looking forward to my Reuben. It arrived looking so good on the plate, the grilled marbled rye bread making a great first impression.

The first bite was … interesting. There was some brownish-grey colored meat sticking out from the sides of the bread. Kinda looked like pork. But a Reuben calls for corned beef along with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing.

So I pulled the two pieces of grilled bread apart to take a closer look. All the components were there, but what the heck was that meat? There was a faint glow of deep pink corned beef color in the very center, but that was about it.

Then my mind started going. You know when you discover a container of deli meat way back in your fridge that has been missing for a while? The very center of the meat still has its original color but the edges have turned a brownish-grey?

By the time I made my discovery, it was too late to call it to anyone’s attention. In fact, it was almost 1:30 and time for us to go. We flagged down our waitress, asked her what pies were available for dessert and asked her to package them up.

When we arrived home, one Styrofoam container had two pieces of apple pie (we asked for one), one had a piece of cherry pie that looked like someone had dropped it in the container from the roof of the building (it was upside down and in pieces) and another had several homemade doughnuts “made fresh every morning.”

Both of the pies were clearly made somewhere else (in the Mrs. Smith factory, we figured) and the doughnuts were a little tough (not made the day we were there, we were pretty sure).

Which brings us back to our waitress. Not friendly, not attentive, not helpful.

She wasn’t concerned about how we wanted our burger cooked or whether we might have wanted fries with it. She didn’t ask what kind of bread we’d like with our Western or if we might want it toasted. She must have thought we’d had enough to eat because she plopped the guest check on our table before even asking if we might like something for dessert.

And instead of sitting at the counter most of the time watching those doughnuts in the glass jar go stale, maybe—just maybe—she could have helped out in the kitchen and brought us our soup in less than the half hour that it took.

A disappointing lunch for three at the Retro came to $30.92 before tip.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email:

The Retro

91 E. Main St.

Gouverneur, N.Y.


A diner with a ’50s “retro” motif serving typical diner fare

HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week

RATING: 1 forks

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