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MV Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins: Creekside Cafe takes the traditional upstate diner up a notch

Cara Dolan Berry, Special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 12/18/22

Where Kellogg Road meets Oneida Street — where New Hartford weaves into Washington Mills — a bit of a Mohawk Valley “Restaurant Row” reveals itself.

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MV Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins: Creekside Cafe takes the traditional upstate diner up a notch

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WASHINGTON MILLS — Where Kellogg Road meets Oneida Street — where New Hartford weaves into Washington Mills — a bit of a Mohawk Valley “Restaurant Row” reveals itself.

As you hold your breath and make a wish while crossing over the railroad tracks, you first see Piggy Pat’s Smoke & Ale House, then Packy’s Pub. Tony’s Pizzeria and Sports Bar is located around the corner from Roma Sausage and Deli, just down the street from Rio Grande Tex Mex Grill.

But no civilized upstate “restaurant row” worth its salt potatoes would be complete without a diner, so this “row” is completed by The Creekside Cafe. And this diner is quintessential - a diner among upstate diners.  

Scott Gehringer, the current owner, grew up in Chadwicks, graduated from Chadwicks High School, earned an associate’s degree in food service from Mohawk Valley Community College, a Rome-based program, and then a bachelor’s degree in business from SUNY Empire.

He and his wife live and raise their four children in his hometown, where he bought his first restaurant in 1986, the Willowvale Diner, a more traditional neighborhood spot. He later expanded to add the Ice Cream Factory next door.  

Gehringer purchased Creekside in 2017, “polished it up” and saw it through COVID, preserving its role on the row to pour that first cup of coffee for breakfast, flip those burgers for lunch and fry up that fish on Friday for supper.

“Q.S.C.: Quality. Service. Cleanliness,” offered Gehringer as a key to a successful restaurant. “There are not a ton of secrets to it. Just do everything the best that you can do it.”

Rich shades of green greet you with the aroma of bacon, coffee and real maple syrup when you walk into Creekside Cafe. See the breakfast nook across from the customary lunch counter, set off by a fireplace, and think to yourself, I want to sit there one snowy winter day?

The dining room is open and expansive, surrounded by window walls filtering in muted daylight and the vista of the woods just across the creek that babbles behind it. A long, large deck beckons you to see and hear it. 

The menu reads traditional. The portions are generous, the meats are quality, the hashbrowns had that perfect crisp and the bacon strips were just a little longer than likely and served hot off the grill. The toast was marble rye and the slices were thick. Customary fare … up just a notch.

The lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu, but daily specials add variety, such as homemade soups of the day like ham and cheddar to sandwich specials like the Riley steak with Swiss and caramelized onions to a Friday lemon beer battered haddock.

Things like greens on the side and egg and olive sandwiches remind you that you’re home. The grilled chicken sandwich was a treat; a plank of tender, all-white breast meat topped with fresh LTO, and a dollop of mayo, served not just on any roll, but brioche. It was a sweet surprise and another way this place aims just a little higher. 

One more departure from traditional upstate diners is the cocktail. If you’ve never been, you read that right. Enjoy a mimosa with your brunch, a beer with your burger or a glass of wine with your mozz sticks. A terrific touch while relaxing on the deck or at a table by that fireplace.

One thing that just makes it a diner, and why we hold them dear, is the welcoming smile from a friendly waitress, as happy to see you the first time as the 50th. 

“A restaurant defines itself by the personality of the owner,” said Gehringer, who learned that from a mentor and hopes to instill it in the team at Creekside. “We want to make people feel taken care of.”

Creekside Cafe is still as fond and familiar to the locals who love the place, but it takes it up a notch. Ride one day soon through the “restaurant row” where Kellogg meets Oneida, resist the temptation to stop before you get there, and see for yourself.  

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