Ask any local and they will tell you half the fun of eating at Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In is basking in the late-summer sun as it sinks into Lake Ontario.
So of course we visit on a Monday, after sunset, in the middle of a rainstorm. The surprising thing about Rudy’s is that the food was more than able to make up for the weather.
Rudy’s–known to locals as “the loop” because it was there that the nearby trolley track ended and looped back toward town–has been a landmark in Oswego for 65 years. The restaurant, wedged between the lake and County Route 89, is popular among students as well, due to its proximity to campus.
It was dark, wet and nearly empty. It was also near closing time. In the past I’ve waited 30 minutes or more just to get in the door, but not today.
We select a spot at the counter, which runs the length of the building, and study the menu. The weather still isn’t cooperating, so we order a bit of everything, grab our cardboard trays and head for cover at Adam’s house.
We start our feast off with a fish sandwich ($6.25) and side of French fries ($1.99). The fish is juicy and the breading locks in much of the moisture. The fish at Rudy’s is a personal favorite, and an excellent fallback if you can’t decide what to order.
Next we move on to a Texas Hot ($2.65) and fried clam strips ($1.99). For the uninitiated, a Texas Hot is a hotdog or Coney topped with a special blend of meat and spices. The skin on the hotdog is crisp, but for flavor, the meat sauce reigns supreme. A hint of mustard adds a welcome note of sweetness to the sauce. With the clam strips, the skilled frying performs a magic trick. It actually enhances the flavor of the clams, Adam says. He polishes off most of the clams in a matter of seconds.
Now he starts on the salt potatoes ($1.85) and I begin devouring the chicken wings ($6.99). Adam raves about the potatoes.
“I could eat nothing but these salt potatoes for days,” he says.
And he’s got a point. The tender potatoes are swimming in butter and he adds several dashes of pepper. The chicken wings are unique. They’re breaded, fried and with a perfect crunch. They are so flavorful, to the point where it’s difficult to ascertain where the flavor is coming from: the meat or the breading? One place it’s not coming from is the sauce. Though the idea of sauce-free wings might seem unusual, these wings never really have you asking for sauce.
We sampled a lot of delicious food, but the calamari was as unimpressive as all the other food was tasty. The deep-fried squid was dry and mostly breading.
“You can’t actually taste the squid,” Adam says. “It should be the star here, but if you weren’t looking, you’d barely notice it.”
Whereas the frying tuned up the flavor of the excellent clam strips, here the opposite is true. The horseradish sauce provided with calamari is a flavorful addition and it helps with the dryness. Still, unless you feel adventurous, the fried squid is best avoided.
Shaken up by the calamari, we decide to take our chances and try the crab bites ($2.15). Our courage is rewarded. The bites are moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. Adam mentions the bites could stand to have more crab in them, but the batter, cheese, peppers and nominal price compensate for the small amount of crab.
Now that we have tried everything, we sit back, digest and survey the table before us. The only scraps of food remaining are the calamari and a few chicken wings we couldn’t find room for. We agree that overall, Rudy’s offers a great mix of savory food and a friendly atmosphere, even if the weather is not agreeable.