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Comfort food, friends, tchotchke and charm convene at Charlie’s Place

Cara Dolan Berry
Staff writer
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Posted 5/29/22

For many, Charlie’s Place is a small, colorful building featuring ample outdoor seating with an expansive view of Paris.

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Comfort food, friends, tchotchke and charm convene at Charlie’s Place

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The sign scrawls Charlie’s Place with a sketch of a welcoming woman with a smile. It is a small, colorful building featuring ample outdoor seating with an expansive view of Paris. New York, that is.

But it is the interior décor that grabs you and doesn’t let you go once you walk through the door of this lovable little diner. Proprietor, Karen Knauth, who began waitressing at the local Howard Johnsons at 16 years old, notes that the wallpaper was there when she bought the place, but the rest is all her.

“It’s very ‘early garage sale,’” joked Knauth as she glanced around at the knick knacks and wall signs and silk tulips and such.

At which point one of the waitresses busily doing her closing side work chimed in, “everyone always says they love the decorations!”

“People say it looks like their grandmother’s house,” said Knauth.

And what could be more comforting than that?

The location, at the peak of the climb up Seneca Turnpike in Clinton, just over the New Hartford town line, was originally called Piggly Wiggly in the 1960s, when it was a hot dog stand and mini-golf course. Since then, it has morphed from drive-in to dive bar to diner, but has always been a gathering place for Mohawk Valley locals to share a beer or a coffee or a meal and good company.

Knauth herself is a lifelong Central New Yorker, born in Syracuse, raised in Cherry Valley and came of age in Kirkland when the little family moved there when she was a teen. She graduated from Saint Francis de Sales High School in Utica and began waitressing full time. She bought this diner and opened Charlie’s Place on September 4, 1997, just four months shy of 25 years ago.

Knauth recalls the early years when, on weekday mornings, she worked the first few hours by herself, both cooking and waiting tables.

“There’s not a job in the place that I haven’t done,” Knauth said, “and I wouldn’t ask anyone else to do a job I wouldn’t do.”

Knauth’s ethic was inspired by her hard-working single mom, Charlette. When Knauth caught the restaurant bug, it was contagious, as it wasn’t long before Charlette left office work for the kinetic pace and comradery of joining the crew at a local eatery. At one point, the mother-daughter duo worked a floor together, where the mother came to be known as ‘Charlie’ for short, thus the daughter, ‘Charlie Junior.’

Knauth smiles warmly at the reverie of how “Charlie’s Place” was named as a homage to her mom, who worked there with her, side-by-side, until the pandemic hit, coaxing Charlie into retirement at the age of 86.

Charlie’s Place was packed on a rainy Sunday morning with everyone from regular retirees at the counter to two local teens on a breakfast date tucked into a two-top table to a Hamilton College grad and his family filed into the extra large back booth. The music marks the background for the buzz of conversation with country pop from “Mr. BoJangles” to “Drift Away” to “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Breakfast on a Sunday spans from specials like the Italian Scramble to Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast to the regular menu, featuring customary diner fare.

Some Charlie’s Place specialties of the house include the Benedicts – they have a whole series of Benedicts, - the Giambrotte, which no respectable upstate breakfast joint menu would be without a version of, and The Mountain – a Charlie’s Place fave featuring two eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, onions, peppers, home fries and hash browns all mixed together and stacked into a mound. Add gravy and it’s called The Volcano.

“We’re mostly known as a breakfast place,” said Knauth, who looks forward to a flock of regulars to gather daily for everything from the Monday through Thursday early bird breakfast special from 6 to 8 a.m. – two eggs, home fries, toast and coffee for $6.95 – to a daily special like cinnamon bun pancakes. “But we need to make ‘em think about us for lunch!”

The lunch menu at Charlie’s Place, if one is not wooed by daily specials such as mushroom stew, meatloaf or Friday fish fry, boasts half-pound burgers, sandwiches, salads, wraps, melts, Philly cheesesteak, French dip and a poultry selection including chicken fingers, chicken parmesan sandwich and a chicken tenders BLT.

Then, just add the homemade desserts.

Sides include home fries, onion rings, fries, “dirty fries” (add gravy, bacon bits and cheddar cheese), tossed green salad, homemade soups and homemade cole slaw, mac salad and potato salad.

The cole slaw was a treat with the fisherman’s platter, chopped instead of shredded cabbage and carrots with a light yet creamy dressing, and the potato salad was homemade, uniquely seasoned with a perfect dash of egg.

The food is fantastic, but Knauth’s favorite thing about Charlie’s Place is the people.

“I meet a lot of people and many of them become like family,” she said.

She counts herself lucky to be “blessed with a really great staff” who are also part of that family and she hopes future Charlie’s Place family expect “a warm, friendly atmosphere, lots of great food, and great service” when they visit for the first time.

“There’s a sign hanging over the door outside that says, ‘Come as Strangers, Leave as Friends,” said Knauth.

It reminded her of a group of older gentleman who didn’t know each other. They are retired or have lost their wives … they live alone. Each one came one day for breakfast, sat at the counter and struck up a conversation with the other, then another. Now, they look forward to enjoying breakfast together every day at Charlie’s Place.

“It’s like a daytime ‘Cheers.’ Everybody knows your name,” she said.

Charlie’s Place is located at 8170 Seneca Turnpike, Clinton. Breakfast and lunch are served from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Breakfast only is served from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. Enjoy seasonal outdoor dining and free WiFi. Customers paying cash enjoy a 3.9% discount. For more information, like and follow Charlie’s Place on Facebook.


 

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