Millerton, N.Y. — If you happen by the Oakhurst Diner in Millerton around lunchtime on a weekend, you might think they are giving food away. Every seat in every booth is taken, and there’s no room at the counter. As you wait for your food, you can hear fathers reading books to their youngsters, watch teens shooting selfies, observe the little ones in high chairs, and wonder just how many burgers the diner serves in a day. The wait staff and small kitchen staff move so quickly they might be dancing, but they’re not — they’re just making sure everyone gets their food promptly. And nicely.
Once upon a time, an original box car diner, made in New Jersey in the 1940s, it was brought to Millerton to replace an inn owned by the Hotchkiss family that had burned down. Today, much of the original diner remains the same, so you’re forgiven if you feel as if you’ve entered a time warp. The stools are as old as they look, as are the booths, although they have been recovered. The pie cases and 6-door cooler are from the 1940s.
The Oakhurst Diner is now owned by Paul Harney and Justin Panzer. Paul’s father John, a graduate of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, moved to Salisbury in the 1950s when he bought an interest in the White Hart Inn there. He became a committed tea drinker, so much so that he bought the local tea company and renamed it Harney’s Teas, now a flourishing business with a huge list of premium teas.
Like his father, Paul Harney was a Marine, but now travels a lot to expand the company’s scope. His enthusiasm for trying new products can be tasted at the diner, where they serve such items as Clancy’s fancy hot sauce from Michigan and Grama’s sweet sauce from Thailand. For those like me who can’t get enough of that sweet sauce, it’s nice to know you can buy some to take home. Harney’s also does the distribution for Taste of Nirvana coconut water.
Panzer’s background is more typical of a café owner — he was a chef at Lutece and Craft in New York City before moving to the country.
Like so many places in and around the Berkshires, the Oakhurst Diner’s workforce of 15 doubles between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In those months, the Diner is open every day. Otherwise, it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
So who eats at the Oakhurst Diner? There’re lots of locals. Ditto weekenders. Hotchkiss students fill up the place on Sundays, and on holidays they more or less take it over. On my last trip there, I talked with a couple from eastern Connecticut who drove 1 ½ hours one way to enjoy the food. Really.
And what do you eat at the Oakhurst Diner? Breakfast is served until 5 p.m. so if you’re a late sleeper you can still get a Justin’s Egger (scrambled eggs with jalapenos and fried ham on a toasted potato bun) well into the afternoon. Or “Little Buddy with Kale,” which is kale mixed with bacon, sausage, bell peppers, topped with melted American cheese and two sunny-side up eggs. Or classic eggs Benedict. Or omelets or French toast and other breakfasty entrees.
Moving on to lunch and dinner items, your eye catches “The Babe,” a 1/3-pound burger topped with sliced corn dog, bacon, American cheese, lettuce and tomato. Why “the Babe”? Back in the day, Babe Ruth used to stay at the Oakhurst Inn so he’s honored today with a suitably over-the-top entrée. The beef in this burger comes from the Joseph Meiller farm in Pine Plains.
There’s an organic Herondale Burger, honoring the local farm in Ancramdale, N.Y., where the diner buys its grass fed beef. Oakhurst serves a bahn mi roast pork sandwich with pickled carrots, cilantro, fresh jalapeno, and mayo. There are edamame dumplings, hand rolled vegetable spring rolls, and mozzarella sticks. Many dishes come with Oakhurst dressing, a spicy thousand island dressing made with ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, and horseradish. Yum.
Among the reasons the food tastes so good at the diner is that they use top-notch sources. The bread comes from Eli Zabar’s in New York. Their milk and ice cream come from the Ronnybrook Farm in Ancramdale. The baked goods are all made by Coco’s Crumbs, an old-school baking establishment using all natural ingredients.
For most of us, it’s something of a schlep to get to Millerton, so if you need hints on what else to do there besides eating well, you might do a tea tasting at Harney’s Teas next door, check out the glass blowing at Gilmor Glass Works across the road, shop at any one of the shops in town, browse the books at Oblong Books, or walk off your calories along the Hudson Valley Rail Trail that runs through Millerton. You’ll be glad you made the trip.