In a time when restaurants come and go at an alarming rate, The Ritz Diner has remained a constant in Oswego.
Located along the river on West 1st Street, the white and green exterior is unassuming, except for the large wooden owl comfortably perched on the front of the restaurant.
However, one step inside and such thoughts are thrown out the window. The restaurant opened more than 28 years ago and the interior looks not a day older than its early 1980s opening. Straight from the mind of owner Jocko Reitz, the interior may remind you of your mother’s dining room, if your mother adorned the walls with stuffed animals, model ships and too many portraits to count. It may also be the only place you’ll visit that has statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Dean Martin all in a row.
The restaurant was experiencing its late-morning rush when I arrived and although the line went out the door, I was seated within a few minutes.
Since I arrived during the transition from breakfast to lunch, the classic blend of ham, turkey, Swiss cheese and French toast was a fitting choice as I ordered a Monte Cristo sandwich as my first meal. Fortunately, the cook did not skimp on the Swiss cheese, leaving the slightly tangy flavor in every bite.
However, I wish the sandwich was cooked a little longer. I was hoping that the bread would be crisp with the cheese oozing out. Instead I received it in a soft, but solid state. A few extra minutes would have completely melted the cheese, like a perfectly cooked grilled cheese sandwich.
From here, I split a bacon, ham and broccoli omelet. With the omelet, The Ritz nailed it. As I broke through the slightly crisp outer layer, a flood of cheese rushed out. This was a good sign of things to come. Rather than simply filling the omelet, the fillings are cooked into the omelet, leaving a little of everything in each bite. The broccoli provided just enough firmness and contrast in texture. I usually add extra salt and pepper to my eggs, but the meal was perfectly seasoned.
With the omelet came a generous heap of home fries. These potatoes certainly put the "home" in "home fries," with rough cut, unpeeled potatoes. Rather than frozen, peeled, finely chopped that many try to pass off as home fries, these potatoes were somewhere in between a very thick slice and a chunk. Whatever the shape, they were properly cooked and due to the peel being left on, were chock-full of potato flavor. Unlike the omelet, the potatoes could have used a few more shakes of salt and pepper, maybe a dash of hot sauce, but were a solid sidekick.
Was it exceptional? No. It is a diner and serves exactly what one would expect a diner to serve at a level of quality that neither disappoints nor astonishes. But it does get one thing right: price. Where else can you find a hamburger for under $3 that isn’t served from a drive-thru window? Every item on the breakfast and lunch menu is under $5 and many are much lower. Even on the dinner menu, there was nothing over $10: most of the entrees ranged from $6-$9.
Surrounded by friendly staff, a blend of college-age customers and regulars that have been going to The Ritz for many years and a charm that is comfortable, the food comes cheap and the coffee cup never empties. It won’t blow you away, but you’ll likely come back for more.