For 70 years, the return of Rudy’s has meant springtime in Oswego.
Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In, a Lake Ontario landmark, has been serving fried seafood, Hofmann hot dogs and other fare for so long, SUNY Oswego was still known as Oswego State Teachers College.
The menu is written on black letter boards behind the counter that runs the length of the restaurant. There are a few seats inside, good for those early spring or late fall days when the lake breeze is a bit too chilly, but Rudy’s is best appreciated while sitting at a picnic table, listening to the gentle waves crash against the shore.
I’ve never left Rudy’s without eating a haddock sandwich and I was not about to make an exception now.
I’ve never left Rudy’s without eating a haddock sandwich and I was not about to make an exception now. The beauty in the haddock sandwich ($6.94) lies in its simplicity. It’s a generous, nearly foot-long filet of haddock, breaded and fried and served on a hamburger bun comically small by comparison.
While each bite is delicious, the thickest part of the skin-on (as is the norm for haddock in Central New York) filet is melt-in-our-mouth tender, disappearing as softly as the fluffy bun.
An order of fried smelts, fried clams, salt potatoes and a Coney topped with Texas hot sauce, chopped onions and mustard rounded out our order. Any menu item can be made “hot” (topped with Texas hot sauce, onions and mustard) for an extra $1.20.
While waiting for the order, I saw several “hot” haddock sandwiches ordered by other diners. I applauded the genius of those who thought to order such a great combination, but was envious that I’d have to wait to next time to try it.
At Rudy’s, a Texas is a frankfurter, or red hot, while a Coney is a Snappy Griller, or white hot. In Michigan, the Texas hot would be called a Coney. In the North Country, it’s called a Michigan. In Coney Island, you’d be hard-pressed to find either kind of Coney.
While the name is confusing, it’s crystal clear that Rudy’s makes some of the best hot dogs in Central New York. The natural-casing dogs appear to be deep fried and retain their snap, even under a thick hot sauce cloak. The spice of the hot sauce, which Rudy’s sells by the pint, is balanced with the sweetness from the onion and richness from the beef. I can see why people put it on top of everything.
The fried smelt ($4.15) was a generous serving of an underappreciated fish. The small fish are served whole and simply fried with a side of tartar sauce. They have a stronger flavor than the haddock, but are mild enough for easy snacking.
Salt potatoes ($2.30) come three to an order and are nearly as tender and sweet as the bath of melted butter that comes with the potatoes. Don’t be shy about dipping other things in the leftover butter once the potatoes are gone.
Clam strips are all too often more like clam-flavored breading than actual fried seafood, but at Rudy’s, the strips ($2.70) are plump, large and delicious, especially when dipped in tartar sauce or leftover salt potato butter.
The special seasoning on all Rudy’s food is the view. It’s the spraying waves hitting your nose just as you take a bite of fish sandwich, or sitting on the ledge and watching the sunset over the lake with a cold beer in your hand.
Rudy’s food is great enough to stand alone, but why should it?
Address: 78 County Route 89, Oswego, N.Y., 13126.
- Open from March until Columbus Day
- Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Note: Cash only. ATM in the parking lot.
This review originally appeared in the June-July 2016 edition of Oswego County Business magazine.