By Margaret McCormick, The Syracuse Post-Standard
Appeared Sunday, August 17, 2003
If you're hitting the road in the waning weeks of summer for a taste of the region's scenery and attractions, map
out some stops for a memorable meal.
A quartet of seasonal restaurants are themselves a destination. They offer an alternative to cookie-cutter chain-
restaurant fare, and give a different meaning to the expression "dining out".
At Mac's Drive-In in Waterloo, less than an hour's drive from Syracuse, you can enjoy a burger, hand-cut fries and
a frosty mug of root beer without ever leaving your car. This is a real drive-in with curb service, not a
drive-through. There's also a covered counter with tables and chairs.
The main draw at the Skan-Ellus Drive-In in Skeneateles is ice cream cones, but you'll have to get out of your car
to place your orders. "Curb service" went out decades ago.
If a waterfront setting is more to your liking, the choices include Rudy's in Oswego, with its spectacular view of
Lake Ontario and its sunsets, and Bob's Barbecue in Homer, along the Tioughnioga River. These two don't have
drive-in in their names, but they are steeped in the pleasurable and playful drive-in spirit.
They are the kinds of places where the person who takes your order at the counter shouts it into the kitchen and
might also double as the cook and cashier.
If you have any doubt that a restaurant without waiters, wine lists and white linens is the stuff of a memorable
meal, visit the guest book section of the Rudy's website at www.rudyshot.com.
Many of the greetings from locals echo this thought: wish you were open year-round.
Many from faraway fans echo this one: Wish you were here.
Says a visitor from Phoenix, Ariz.: "Although I left Oswego 20 years ago, I still think how great it would be to have
a 'fish hot' and salt potatoes. I only wish you would retire in Arizona."
'Hot' time in Oswego... Jason Livesey, son of owners Brad and Carol Livesey, says the "comfort" food and
comfortable atmosphere at Rudy's, plus a front-row seat along 650 feet of prime Lake Ontario shoreline, keep
customers coming back year after year after year.
The restaurant seats about 40 inside and hundreds outside at 120 picnic tables.
"People say it's location, location, location," Livesey says. "I believe it's the quality of the food and attention to
detail. And the tradition. Normally, if people come out here once, they'll come back again. And bring someone else
Livesey's father's second cousin opened Rudy's as a stand in 1946. It has undergone dozens of renovations and
small expansions since then, but the mood and the menu remain essentially the same.
The best sellers are fish and chips, fried haddock sandwiches, fried clams and Texas hots, says Livesey, who
manages the place with his sister, Allison.
For dessert, try apple dumplings, ice cream, and an array of sundaes, shakes and cones.
Just about everything is available with Rudy's special hot sauce, which resembles chili without beans. It's made
with tomatoes and ground beef that is well-seasoned, but not overly hot.
The restaurant goes through about 300 pounds of it a week, Livesey says. "The food hasn't changed; the
atmosphere hasn't changed. People get comfort out of that."
(Rudy's is located at 78 County Route 89 (off State Route 104) in Oswego. Phone 315-343-2671. Hours are 10am to
10pm Sunday to Thursday, 10am to 11pm Friday and Saturday. Closes for Season: September 22)
Grill Crazy... A well-known barbecue in Syracuse gets all the attention, but George "Bob" Haskell has been
barbecuing chicken and ribs in Cortland County for 30 years now, 13 of them at the summer-only Bob's Barbecue,
He doesn't have his own cookbook or bottled sauces, but Haskell's barbecue does have its devotees. One fan comes
up regularly from New York City for a carload of ribs. A biker from North Carolina makes sure the road takes him
to Bob's regularly.
"We have a pretty fair following, even though our location is kind of obscure," Haskell says.
From Syracuse, Bob's is a pleasant 25-minute drive. Take Route 81 south to the Preble exit, and travel south on
Route 281 for about six miles.
A cluster of picnic tables, cloud of smoke and the aroma of spice-rubbed meat let you know you're there.
The best seller is Haskell's barbecued half-chicken, will pulled pork sandwiches a close second. Haskell describes
his barbecue style as "traditional New York style, the kind of barbecue that you might find at a church function or
American Legion or the state fair."
Chicken and ribs are cooked on an open pit, with charcoal. Pork is smoked, then "pulled".
Haskell's wife, Phyllis, makes many of the side dishes, including the usual summertime cold salads, salt potatoes,
sweet corn, and, on occasion, red beans and rice.
Desserts include carrot cake, cheesecake, Key lime pie and a rotating roster of pies made by Haskell's mother.
Choices might include blueberry, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, banana cream or coconut cream, "whatever she's got."
Haskell hopes the outdoor dining season continues with a nice fall. In the catering end of his business, he's
"shooting for more tailgate parties."
Come Novemner, he and Phyllis will close up shop and head for Florida, where George sells real estate in the
off-season. "I'd like to be open year-round," he says, "but we're all outdoors here. The location doesn't support it."
(Bob's is located at 5290 West Road (Route 281) in Homer. Phone 607-753-7098 or 607-749-6153. Hours are 11am to
8pm Wednesday through Sunday. Closed for Season: November.)
A retro fit... Some people have a Big Mac attack.
Around March in the Waterloo-Seneca Falls area, folks have what might be called a Mac's attack. That requires a
visit to Mac's, an authentic 1960s drive-in with a menu to match that opens on Good Friday and closes on Labor
It's a squat white building with red and white awnings, a flag flying out front and a covered area with tables and a
counter. Two "ramps" out back accommodate about 30 cars.
The front part of the restaurant is more popular, says Cathy MacDougal, who owns Mac's with her husband, Gerald.
But many customers come in for the novelty and nostalgia. Hard to find these days is a restaurant where lunch is
delivered to your car on a tray hooked over the window, with condiments in squeeze bottles and root beer in a real
"A drive-in where someone actually comes out to your car and waits on you is pretty rare, I think," MacDougal
says. "And a treat."
On the typical summer day, one to four carhops -- high school and college girls -- work the ramps. Mac's menu
offers burgers, fries, shakes, sundaes, banana splits, and more.
Changing times and tastes have brought the addition of chicken sandwiches, submarine sandwiches, pizza and a
handful of salads. Pabst is still the only beer poured.
On Labor Day, the lights on the blinking arrow will go dark until spring. Regulars might pine for a Mac's Big
Burger (their version of a quarter-pounder) or Chili Hot, but the MacDougals will enjoy a break.
"We're both in our upper 60s now," Cathy MacDougal says. "We take one year at a time."
(Mac's is located at 1166 Waterloo-Geneva Road (Routes 5 and 20), Waterloo. Phone 315-539-3064. Hours are
10:30am to 10pm Tuesday through Sunday, curb service open 11am to 9:30pm. In Spring, the restaurant is only
open weekends. Closed for Season: Labor Day)
Little dipper... Generations of Skeneateles kids and summertime visitors have screamed for ice cream at the
And owner Victor Johnson has been happy to keep the cones and food coming for 36 years.
On a hot summer evening, particularly on a Friday or Saturday, traffic is heavy and cars come and go.
Johnson and his crew might make flurries, sundaes, banana splits and cones (soft-serve or Byrne Dairy hard-pack
ice cream) for between 500 and 1,000 kids and grown-ups.
The drive-in takes its name from its location, the junction of routes 20 and 175, five miles from Marcellus and 1 1/2
miles from Skeneateles.
Johnson has made some cosmetic changes to the place, including cedar shingles over the original 1960s
greenish-white siding and the addition of a small dining room. A few picnic tables pepper the lawn.
He says his fried haddock, turkey sandwiches and Skan-Ellus burgers are popular, but it's the soft-serve ice cream
(frozen yogurt for some) that causes a line to form nightly. It comes in vanilla, chocolate, twist and black raspberry.
"That's my own flavoring," Johnson says of the raspberry. "We sell a lot of that."
When the temperature gets chilly and more customers come in for chili than for cones, Johnson buttons the place
up for another season.
He has plenty to keep him busy: Johnson and his son, Torin, operate Victor's Inn in Camillus.
(Skan-Ellus is at the intersection of Routes 20 and 175, between Skeneateles and Marcellus. Phone 315-685-8280.
Hours are 10am to 11pm daily. Closes for Season: October 20)