Friday, April 15, 2016

Brunch in Syracuse: Modern Malt vs. Stella's Diner

When it comes to brunch in Syracuse, New York, two places immediately come to mind: Stella's Diner and Modern Malt. Hungry college students flock to these restaurants every Saturday and Sunday morning to get their fix of greasy bacon and scrambled eggs. Today I'll be comparing the two brunch hot spots to see which comes out on top.

Modern Malt

Modern Malt, located in downtown Syracuse's Armory Square, resembles a 50's era diner. The cute decor manages to look modern and retro at the same time. I've only visited Modern Malt once, on a Sunday morning, and had to wait about 25 minutes for a table.

One glance at the menu told me I'd have a hard time picking a meal. Everything looked delicious! Modern Malt offered some of the most unique and creative breakfast options I've ever seen. 

Those with a sweet tooth can order cannoli pancakes, Barney Rubble French toast (encrusted in Fruity Pebbles!), s'mores stuffed French toast, or carrot cake waffles. Savory options included pig Benedict (which is basically eggs Benedict with pork belly), a gyro omelette, a Mexican-inspired West Buena omelette, and lobster Benedict. Modern Malt even has General Tso's chicken and waffles (!!!), a tuna poke, a pulled pork breakfast sandwich, and an extensive poutine menu. Gotta love French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy! 

I was extremely tempted to order the breakfast poutine made with tater tots, cheese curds, and poached egg. But instead I decided on the breakfast taco: scrambled egg, chorizo, pico, cheese, jalepeno, and guacamole stuffed in two flour tortillas. The $12 tacos tasted delicious! The peppers and chorizo added the perfect amount of spice, while the cheese and guacamole gave the dish a smooth texture. The only downside of the meal was the toast. The bread choices were either wheat or rye, neither of which is my favorite. I also ordered a few cups of the tasty bold coffee. 

Jake, my boyfriend, ordered three scrambled eggs with bacon, toast, herb-roasted potatoes, and a short stack of pancakes (pictured at top of post). He ate everything on his plate and was highly satisfied with his meal, which cost $11. 

Modern Malt is pretty expensive; I actually thought the meals were overpriced. However, the creativity of the menu made up for the cost. Modern Malt also serves lunch and dinner. In fact, it's open until 4 AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I guess people crave some hearty breakfast food after a night of bar crawling.

Stella's Diner 

Walking into Stella's Diner is also like taking a time machine back to 1950. Inside the metallic silver building you'll find cozy booths, Betty Boop decor, and a breakfast bar. I've never had brunch at Stella's without waiting at least 20 minutes for a table, but the food is absolutely worth the wait. 

Stella's serves up traditional diner breakfast fare like scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, and omelettes. I give a five-star rating to every item that I've tried. The eggs Benedict are my go-to; they're creamy, flavorful, and indulgent. I'm also obsessed with the buttery grits and fluffy pancakes. 

When I took my mom to Stella's, she ordered an omelette with onion, spinach, and Swiss cheese. She still talks about her omelette five months later, saying it was the best she's ever had. 

There is one downside to the food: everything is loaded with butter. I guess the extra butter gives the food its five-star flavor rating, but I always leave Stella's feeling bloated and gross. 

I always judge a restaurant by its coffee, and Stella's passes the test. The coffee is bold but not bitter and goes down smoothly, which is why I'll drink five cups without realizing it. The waitresses constantly stop by your table to fill your cup with fresh hot jo. 
Another benefit of Stella's is the price. A large platter with scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and pancakes will only set you back about $7. The diner also serves lunch and dinner. 


Go to Stella's Diner if you're looking for traditional breakfast fare at a cheap price. Go to Modern Malt if you're seeking a fancier brunch with unique and delicious food. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Today I'm reviewing Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I listened to the audiobook version of this satirical fiction novel.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette? focuses on Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect who suffers from extreme anxiety and agoraphobia. She hired a virtual assistant from India to complete her basic chores to avoid communicating with others. Bernadette's 15-year-old daughter, Bee, excels in school. Her husband, Elgie, works as a top Microsoft executive, and he's practically married to his job.

After Bee finishes the school year with perfect grades, Bernadette and Elgie promise to take her on a family vacation to Antarctica. But the upcoming trip makes Bernadette's anxiety worse and, following a series of events, she disappears. But where did she go?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is told through a series of letters, emails,  FBI documents, and memos pieced together to form a story. Some narration by Bee is woven through the documents in order to clarify the storyline.


I didn't know what to expect when I started listening to Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I bought the audiobook on a whim because I remembered seeing the eye-catching cover everywhere a few years back. I was excited to learn that the author, Maria Semple, wrote the popular TV show Arrested Development. 

At first, I didn't like the epistolary format of the book The array of documents confused me, and I had a hard time figuring out the plot. I think listening to the audiobook made the confusion worse, since I couldn't go back to reference previous emails and memos. Once I figured out the system, though, I started to really enjoy the unique set-up. I've never read in a novel in an epistolary format before. I bet writing this way is extremely tough,  but Maria Semple pulled it off flawlessly.

As for the characters, they were so strange that you couldn't help but love them. Bernadette is hilarious, troubled, mysterious, and eccentric all at once.  Elgie's character is delightfully odd as well – imagine a tech whiz with an off-the-charts IQ and a wildly popular TED Talk who walks around the office with no shoes. Bee is a mix of both her parents. She's clever and sassy, but also incredibly smart.

At its core, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is supposed to be a humorous satire about Seattle and its wealthy elite. Semple pokes fun at everything from private school parents to five-way intersections. But, honestly, I didn't laugh out loud while reading this book. Maybe I didn't understand the humor because I never visited Seattle, or maybe I don't connect to satire as well as other people.

Nevertheless I enjoyed the novel for what its worth. I especially couldn't get enough of the Antartica plot line – I mean, what other book takes place partly in Antarctica?

The Audiobook Experience:

The narrator of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Kathleen Wilhoite, nailed the gig. She switched between character voices flawlessly, and her voice held the perfect amount of emotional infliction. I would've enjoyed the book less with another narrator.

Rating: 4/5

I recommend this book for an easy, entertaining read – as long as you don't pick it up solely for the satire. I'd say the target audience is women in their 20s and older.

Photo from Amazon