When we first moved to Eastwood about four years ago, we gave Mother’s Cupboard a couple tries and gave up. The food was lackluster, the staff equally so, and it just was not a great experience. Since then, new owners have taken over and what a difference! They’ve painted the outside red (here’s an old picture), and though the inside retains its funky mid-century look, with real pine paneling on the walls and the ceiling, the experience is altogether different.
Like some other reviewers online, we were hestitant about going in. It’s still kind of a saggy looking place with a gravel parking lot, located between an ancient cemetery, a railroad embankment and a major intersection. But the fact that the parking lot was jam packed said something, so we went in.
We love diners because we can sit at the counter. Our willingness to do so means we often get a seat while others wait for tables. This was the case today, as we got the last two seats in the house at the counter. The view was one of the most entertaining in Syracuse. Our waitress – adorable, attentive and friendly – took our order right away and didn’t look perturbed at our decision not to drink the coffee (we had just gotten our caffeine fix a quarter mile west at Cafe Kubal). The folks sitting next to me were friendly and we enjoyed a few laughs together.
But it was the opportunity to watch chef Pete crank out breakfasts that made it the best seat in the house. We watch chefs work any time we can, and we both agreed, this guy works faster and with more efficient precision than just about anyone we’ve seen. Every move is precisely choreographed to get maximum output of food for the least amount of energy expended. But there’s a additional flourish to his dance. A plate isn’t simply turned over, it’s deftly flipped in the air and caught. Two step to the right and he’s delivering a meal to the pick-up spot; the very next two steps to the left, he’s grabbed a towel and on the way back has wiped down the front of the grill.
You can tell a chef by the way he cooks eggs, simple food that is notoriously difficult to do well. Dave ordered scrambled eggs and I ordered over easy. I watched chef Pete crack and open four eggs, disposing of the shells, in literally four seconds. My eggs were done to perfection: warm and runny yolks with whites that were thoroughly cooked without a bit of overcooked crunchiness (some people like that stuff, I do not). The sausage was a patty that was quite tasty with none of the off flavors so easy to find in diners. The bread, alas, was ordinary “wheat” bread that is more like white bread with some sawdust in it. We didn’t order home fries but they looked delicious – seasoned with something that included paprika. We saw many dishes going out that were big enough to feed two people: frettas heaped high and pancakes so large, a single one overlapped the edges of a dinner plate.
Halfway through our meal, a gentleman sat down next to me and we exchanged pleasantries. After telling me, “They’ve got to do something about this coffee!”, he said he’d been coming to Mother’s Cupboard since the 1980’s and that things had improved. He said that the chef started out as a dishwasher and eventually bought out “the old man.” He also said that the waitresses (puleeze – in diners they are not “servers”) were chef Pete’s wife and daughter. We’ve seen family-run operations where it seemed everyone was headed for divorce court, but here just the opposite seemed true: they appeared to be enjoying each other’s company as they kept a feverish pace getting food out to all those hungry people.
We hope they’ll “do something about the coffee”. It’s kind of silly to serve swill when there’s a top coffee roaster just down the street. I’d be willing to bet that even if they had to increase the price of a cup of coffee, they’d get a lot more people in there if they were proudly serving Cafe Kubal coffee, freshly ground each morning. And even if they had to increase the price of breakfast by five or ten cents to accommodate better bread, they would not lose any customers over it and would likely attract more. Think of it: there are approximately two places in Syracuse where you can get really great coffee with a full breakfast: L’Adour and Sugar Pearl. But L’Adour is French and pricey and Sugar Pearl is vegan and pricey. Mother’s Cupboard could be the first in Syracuse to do a great regular breakfast with great coffee at more reasonable prices.
We’ll be going back, especially since it’s an easy walk from our house to Cafe Kubal and from the cafe to Mother’s Cupboard. Next time I’ll take some pictures and maybe a video, so come back in a couple weeks to see an update to this post. But don’t wait for that to give the new Mother’s Cupboard a try. There’s a reason that parking lot was full.
If you’d like to be able to buy a full breakfast and drink top-notch coffee in the same place, please leave a comment here!