I love diner food. I love unabashedly local things. And I love references to half-forgotten history.
So the only thing I don't know is why it took me so long to get to Uncle Dan's Diner.
It's been open for nine months at 465 South Pearl Street in Albany. That's the house on the corner of South Pearl and Second Avenue, where Dan O'Connell was born.
You can't understand Albany history without knowing about Dan O'Connell.
As the historical marker outside the restaurant puts it, O'Connell was an "Albany Democratic leader." In his book O Albany! William Kennedy puts it thus: O'Connell was "the man who had controlled the political destiny of the city and county of Albany for so long that only if you were seventy-nine years old on the day of the funeral [Dan's, in 1977] could you have voted for a Democratic candidate for mayor of Albany who hadn't been of Dan's choosing."
That's right. O'Connell's machine had an uninterrupted grip on Albany from 1921 until 1983 (with the death of his mayor, Erastus Corning II). The machine shaped the city in ways we still grapple with today.
Even if you don't read the rest of O Albany (which you should), get it and read the chapter "They Bury the Boss: Dan Ex-Machina." If O'Connell's story is not one you're familiar with, it'll be eye-opening; if it's a tale you already know, you'll rage and wonder all over again at the extent of O'Connell's power.
But, right, about the diner
Uncle Dan's not here. His picture is, though, behind the bakery case: Dan in his famous hat.
Uncle Dan's Diner is a tidy little space with stools at the counter -- as all diners should have -- plus a quartet of tables, and more counter-dining space near the window and mirrored back wall.
The menu is standard diner fare -- breakfast all day, sandwiches -- with some fried seafood and pub grub mixed in. Next time I'll be tempted to try the wings with Uncle Dan's Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce, but on my first visit I had eggs in mind.
The menu offerings have delightfully local names: the Rockefeller, the Whalen, the Corning Jr. The hot sandwiches are named after political parties. Want a hot dog? Ask for Nipper. (Though I admit I might feel a bit guilty chowing down on Albany's mascot.)
Notable is "The Machine": a waffle, a pancake, a piece of French toast, half a fish fry, a 4 oz. strip steak, two eggs, grits, home fries, toast and your choice of bacon or sausage. Cost: $13, the most expensive thing on the menu. That should do ya, if you have several hungry voters to feed.
The omelet options were a little thin -- only American cheese, only white or wheat toast -- but my omelet was packed with bacon and nicely firm in texture. And the quick service meant I didn't stay hungry for long.
Three cakes -- cranberry pecan, lemon and double chocolate -- beckoned under glass domes. Dan's Diner makes all its own cookies, brownies and cakes. The call of the double chocolate proved too strong to resist. Moist and delicious.
Next time you have business at the DMV down the street, stop in. And tip your hat to Uncle Dan.
Uncle Dan's Diner
465 South Pearl Street
Albany, NY 12202
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