Off Route 28 in the Catskills, Farm-to-Counter At The Phoenicia Diner
Phoenicia Diner | 5681 Route 28 | Phoenicia, NY
Fuel up for a day upstate by stopping by the Phoenicia Diner, a landmark eatery serving “farm-to-counter” diner-style food, just off Route 28, otherwise known as the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway. The diner is a 1962 remodeled pancake house, a structural transplant from Long Island that packed its greasy spoons for Phoenicia in the early 1980s. Today, under new ownership and a community-minded vision, the diner is attracting an influx of day trippers, weekenders, transplants and locals by providing them with a modern take on comfort food in a spruced-up diner vibe setting.
“I knew there was more of a demand up here than what was being met, and from a business standpoint, I felt like the town was missing out on this demographic of people who were coming up on the weekend to experience the natural beauty of the Catskills,” says owner Mike Cioffi, a former television and movie set builder from Brooklyn who had spent decades driving past the diner on the way to his family’s weekend home in Margaretville. “I thought ‘the better the experience is here, the more people will want to come.’”
From bread to jam, everything written on their paper placemat menu is made from scratch with locally-sourced ingredients from all over the Catskill and Hudson Valley regions. Bottomless cups of coffee come from Java Love in Bethel, personal cast-iron breakfast skillets are made with eggs from Feather Ridge Farm in Elizaville, and classic diner desserts like apple pie are from Me Oh My Pies in Red Hook. Chef Mel Rosas has created a hearty menu that includes items such as locally smoked trout, grass-fed burgers, and free-range fried chicken and waffles.
“When I first bought the diner, I walked into the kitchen for a look around and I saw an empty fridge and a stocked freezer,” says Mike. “Now it’s reversed.”
“Vintage diners that have booths, counters, stools, kitschy tiles, a retro Coca-Cola machine…I love them all. For me, it’s all about creating and communicating a sense of place. The Catskills are magical and I want everyone to enjoy living and working here as much as I do.”
“I’m a first-time restaurateur. My friends and family tell me I’m nuts (guilty as charged), but I have actually been in the theatrical business all my life – the company I launched right out of college was called “Showman” and we built the scenery for many Broadway and television shows. Showing folks a good time and creating a great experience, that’s what I love to do.”
“Part of creating a sense of place is knowing: “you are here,” especially in an area that has so much natural beauty. I could pore over old maps for hours. I’m also a sucker for any type of comfort food and it’s important to me that we try to source local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible.”
“I was lucky to work with talented artist Gabriele Wilson Design who created all of our visuals. I was already a fan of her work through my friend Doug Crowell of Buttermilk Channel near my home in Brooklyn. Gabriele created the logo for Blue Marble Ice Cream and many more. She beautifully captured what I wanted to communicate with our logo, fonts and menus, and she quickly figured out that like most of our customers, I brake for antiques and yard sales!”
“When I refurbished the diner, it was important to me and our architects GLICKMAN SCHLESINGER to keep as much of the original feel as possible: Formica tables, Linoleum flooring, heavy black-rimmed dishes, and of course, placemats with shout-outs for local spots like The Graham & Co. and Town Tinker Tube Rentals, plus a kids menus and crayons. We have classics like mac and cheese, a side of fries, housemade waffles, chocolate milk – all the stuff I love when I travel with my family.”
“A sense of place, the feeling of going a little bit back in time. Oh, and like I said, I brake for kitsch!”
“I wanted to serve food that would be simple, classic and use as many local, seasonal ingredients as possible, like this Wild Hive Farm polenta “skillet” with Feather Ridge Farm eggs and fresh greens. Chef Mel Rosas and our talented kitchen team have expanded the original concept with a huevos rancheros skillet, plus breakfast tacos, tortilla soup, daily specials and other popular items.”
“No meal is complete without Cholula Hot Sauce on the table. We get a lot of hungry hikers, bikers, cyclists and campers coming through the diner, so “breakfast all day” is pretty key for us.”
“I love a bottomless cup of coffee when I’m making a pit stop or taking a road trip. We serve the Catskills’ own fresh-brewed Java Love Coffee Roasters based in Bethel, NY (site of the original Woodstock festival). But, in case you have a little more time at weekend brunch, we also serve a fairly mean Bloody Mary made with local Migliorelli Farm tomato juice and Peace Vodka (also from Bethel’s Catskill Distilling Co).”
“Route 28 from Kingston to Phoenicia, Big Indian, and Woodstock…the Catskills and Hudson Valley region are just magical. We’re so happy to provide a place by the roadside where you can stop in with your friends and family.”