In 1960, Holiday magazine offered this: “After much thought and consulting notebooks and menus, not to speak of a certain amount of dissension, we have selected for these pages thirty restaurants, outside New York [City], which we recommend as good examples of the upward surge in public dining.” And we made the list.
39 W. Genesee St., Skaneateles, N.Y.
Nothing has changed at this shrine of American home cooking since that day in 1899 when Fred R. Krebs first loaded a platter chin-high with chicken and dropped half a pound of farm butter in the crater of a monstrous mound of mashed potatoes. You don’t dine at Krebs: you eat. You sit at long tables, elbow to elbow, and close by strangers who are invariably nice. Course after course is brought in and you eat what you want and as much as you want.
Dinner starts with an appetizer of shrimp, melon or fruit cup, followed by a choice of three soups. The waitress staggers under the vast tray, divided between fried chicken and sliced steak. Help yourself to mashed white or candied sweet potatoes, or both, and don’t forget the gravy. Fill in the remaining spaces with odds and ends, like creamed mushrooms on toast, fresh garden vegetables, home-baked brown bread or rolls, and sticky cinnamon buns. Salads of several kinds appear. And just when you are ready to whisper “help,” a beaming waitress unloads ice cream, pie, strawberry shortcake in berry time, local melon in late summer, and heaps of chocolate brownies and angel food cake at all times.
Nothing here to interest the fastidious gourmet with Continental leanings. But travelers yearning for food as it used to be have been known to swing 200 miles off course to drive to Skaneateles for a genteel Sunday orgy. Prices are moderate, reservations imperative.
“Forsaking goldfish and Victrola, Syracuse University undergraduates have crowned their hamburger gulping champion instead. The king of ‘wimpies’ is Glenn Leader of Skaneateles, who downed the five required hamburgs in one minute and 27 seconds during a contest sponsored by the Yankee Inn, near-campus restaurant.
“In the preliminary tryouts in which finalist were selected, Leader chewed through five well-catsuped hamburgs in two minutes and two and one-half seconds to lead all other contestants and the two other qualifiers for the main event, and in the finals beat even his own record.”
— “Wimpy Goes Collegiate,” Cortland Democrat, May 26, 1939
Photo of Glenn Leader from the 1939 Onondagan
Note: J. Wellington Wimpy, generally referred to as Wimpy, was a hamburger-loving character in the comic strip Popeye, created by E. C. Segar in 1934.
“Nathan Schweitzer, the largest poultry dealer in the United States, whose business is located in New York City, made a special trip to Krebs, about which he had heard so much, to take dinner, last week. The following was published in the Hotel World Review, the national weekly newspaper of the hotel business:
“Nathan Schweitzer’s discriminating judgment and appreciation of epicurean treats was completely and pleasantly regaled while visiting ‘The Krebs,’ at Skaneateles, N.Y., last week. According to Mr. Schweitzer, the art of dining has reached the acme of perfection at this hospitable establishment on a beautiful lake twenty miles from Syracuse. F.R. Krebs and his charming wife have successfully operated this popular eating place for thirty-five years, gaining an enviable reputation for delicious home-cooked meals featuring fresh garden vegetables. A bountiful and well balanced table d’hote dinner is served with immaculate and unusual service. Each course is served by a different waitress specially instructed in the service and preparation of each dish. ‘The Krebs’ is open from May to November, serving as many as 1,500 meals daily.”
— “An Appreciation of Krebs” in The Skaneateles Press, June 28, 1934
I’m not sure what is stranger about this novel set in Skaneateles: Is it that men can get pregnant, or that Skaneateles has a great little Indian restaurant? We do learn that Austin Baines, owner of Skaneateles Vine & Rind, smells like sun-warmed grapes on a hot summer’s day, that Skaneateles school teachers duck into his wine store on their way home, and that “Greek wines weren’t a big seller in Skaneateles,” but only further reading – which I do not plan to undertake at this time – will tell if more startling revelations about life in the village remain.
Krebs postcards are beyond common, but I couldn’t resist this one, a “Velva-Tone” postcard from Santway Photo-Craft in Watertown, N.Y. They were in business from 1917-1941, and primarily published cards that depicted scenic views in New York and Vermont.
Moravia is not Skaneateles, you might tell me, and you’d be right in some ways, but the Colonial Lodge is in Bear Swamp, and that’s on Skaneateles Lake, and that’s close enough for me. The walls of the Lodge are full of stories, and the one that first caught my eye was a photo of a hunter standing by a very large pig, a trophy pig to be sure, nothing Charlotte’s Webby about it. I was told the wild pig was shot near Locke, on State land.
After the fact, one man whined that the pig had been his pet, but that was never the case. The would-be pet owner had tried to buy the pig from some Mennonites who’d used it for breeding. The pig had grown too big, so the owners were willing to part with it, but when it came time to make the exchange, the pig proved impossible to catch and vanished into the woods.
For the next two years, the pig was his own man, a feral fugitive. Given his size, he prompted 911 calls whenever he got too close to civilization, picked up some bird shot when he got into gardens, and was the secret object of desire for at least two local hunt clubs. But for one so large, he was stealthy.
Until that fateful day in the woods when Russ ended the pig’s rambling with one shot and brought him out, not to the scales of justice, but to the scale of Doug’s Custom Meats in Scott, where he rang up at 700 pounds. “He ate good,” noted Russ.
A gleaning from eBay, early photos of Fred and Cora Krebs