November 14, 2002

Finger Lake'n Good

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Ithaca has been known to induce depression. Whether it’s the lack of shopping options –sometimes the dollar store just ain’t enough, or the fact that there’ll be no schoolwork for two weeks and then every teacher will decide to give a prelim and a test the following week, Ithaca doesn’t have the greatest of track records. But, as most of us already know, the worst part of this town has to do with what it can do to a thermometer. You see, Ithaca can make the thermometer go from 67 degrees to 42 degrees in no time flat. This is not one of Ithaca’s more endearing qualities. So, on one of Ithaca’s cold, rainy, bitter mornings, I decided it was time for me to do something about this. I was on a mission. I decided to conquer Ithaca and its hold on the thermometer. On a 39-degree day, I packed a bag with a towel, sunscreen, and a brand new flowered bathing suit, and I went to Jamaica.

Okay, I went to the Caribbean.

Okay, okay fine. I went to Conkies.

Now, although I am in front of a computer a few days before you are reading this in the paper, I can read your mind. Yes I can. See? You’re wondering what does some place (a restaurant to be exact) with a crazy name like “Conkies,” have to do with going to Jamaica? Well, quite a lot.

I reached this Caribbean hideaway not by plane or by boat, but rather by a 3-minute drive to the Ithaca Commons. Conkies claims to serve “comfort food with a Caribbean beat seven days a week.” So, seeking solace on a dank Sunday morning, I found Conkies.

Walking into the restaurant my first thought was this: a fish loving townie went sea-happy in an ’80s style diner. I know that it’s hard to picture, so, I’ll help you out (there I go reading your mind again). The walls are half sheetrock, half brick. Along the shelf that runs a foot below the ceiling, sit strategically placed plastic fish, lobster, old fisherman’s nets and just about anything sea related you can name. Brightly painted tin suns and fish adorn the walls. The tables themselves are comfortable booths whose tabletops are faux, black marble. The restaurant was empty when my friend and I arrived, so at first we were a little nervous. We shook it off, being that it was pretty early on a Sunday morning. Our nervousness further slipped away as the waitress/hostess flashed her pearly whites and led us to our table.

Our eyes widened as we perused the menu. Egg sandwiches with bacon and sausage, omelettes with peppers, mushrooms, cheese, sausage, chicken, cream cheese and jelly, french toast, pancakes, classic grits, banana-bread french toast served with fried bananas, and of course, sides of catfish, were just a few of the things on the menu. The side order of biscuits looked like they had been shipped up from Atlanta. “Do you girls want some coffee?” Given my aversion to caffeine, I ordered a hot chocolate, as did my friend. They arrived in huge mugs and I began to feel that Ithaca chill melt away as I lost myself in my chocolate drink.

As we waited for our meals, the restaurant filled up. We had plenty of time to observe the comfort-seekers because it took our meal quite a while to arrive. Since our minds were on one track — food, we couldn’t seem to notice anything else. The “specials” board read: sweet potato pancakes — sounded good but we had already ordered. Then our fake marble table began to interest us. Most restaurants, for brunch at least, have sugar on the table, maybe even some ketchup. Not Conkies; instead, there were three different kinds of hot sauce. We contemplated drinking the one that’s main ingredient was cane sugar. Fortunately our food arrived before we popped it open.

I have a tendency to order food like Sally Albright, Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally. My exact order was “an egg white omelette with mushroom, onion and tomato, no cheese, oh and do you have whole wheat bread? Yeah? I’ll have a slice of that.” Miraculously it came exactly as I ordered it and was delicious. The eggs were cooked just right and the home fries, a mix of regular and sweet potatoes, were to die for. My friend ordered the banana French toast extravaganza. It came covered in a cinnamon and sugar syrup. I was glad that it was so big; she had to let me eat some.

After finishing up, we paid the ridiculously cheap tab (thirteen dollars for two), and headed back outside to brave the weather. At least I left knowing I’ll always have Jamaica. I mean Conkies.

Archived article by Alyssa Cohen