80 Years and Counting

Viewed through the lens of history, 1932 was a bellwether year. Ford unveiled the V-8 engine to the motoring public, Elizabeth Taylor was born, the Yanks whipped the Cubs to win the Series and some guy named Roosevelt was elected president. But more importantly, Orbaker’s restaurant opened for business. And while the poor Cubs are still struggling to win another October Classic, I’m happy to report that Orbaker’s is still in business at the same location where it started – on Route 104, just east of Williamson.

Orbaker’s sells burgers, hot dogs, incredibly tasty fries and made-from-scratch milkshakes just like they have every day for the last 80 years. You see, back in 1932, decades before Ray Croc began his systematic assault on America’s taste buds, if you wanted a burger, you ordered one at the diner, the lunch counter of the Five & Dime or you found sustenance at a roadside eatery like Orbaker’s. Orbaker’s doesn’t sell fast food. They sell really good food, the kind our parents and grandparents ate while growing up. I can only imagine how many millions of burgers the place has turned out over the last eight decades.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Orbaker’s serves a variety of classic burgers with all the traditional toppings. Or, you can get a double, or if you’re really hungry, the “Glutton Burger.” If you can eat one of those beasts, you’ll be packed to the rafters. But no worries, you don’t go to Orbaker’s expecting to leave any other way. The Glutton Burger features two beef patties, bacon, Swiss cheese, ham, lettuce, pickles, onion slices, tomatoes and hot sauce. I swear, the thing has to weigh a ton! But unlike Orbaker’s other burger selections, it’s served on a hard roll instead of a steamed bun. Preparation takes a bit more time, but it’s worth the wait. Orbaker’s cooks its 100-percent ground round burgers to order. They don’t cook them in advance. When your eats arrive, you can devour them at the counter or in the adjacent dining room.

SHAKE IT UP

If you order a shake, your server prepares it right in front of you, with real milk, real ice cream, natural flavors and honest-to-goodness malt syrup. A milkshake from Orbaker’s is the genuine article, just like the classic Hamilton Beach mixer that churns all that good stuff together. Their milkshakes are thick, creamy and packed with flavor – real malt shop style milkshakes.

My favorite is the “all black” variety. It’s a sugar-laden amalgam of chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, chocolate milk and a double shot of malt syrup. Calorie count – about 200,000. But who cares? I tend to view the cuisine at Orbaker’s as bona fide health food, because whenever I finish my meal, I feel fantastic!

CRINKLED OR CRISSCROSSED?

Now let’s face the facts. As a foodstuff, French fries are not particularly nutritious – basically, they’re just deep-fried starch. But if you’re going to eat an order of fries anyway, why not snarf down some that are tawny brown, just a bit crunchy and cooked in classic frying oil? If you order fries, that’s exactly what you’re going to get, because Orbaker’s doesn’t care about trans-fat, or calories, or cholesterol or nuthin’! What they do care about is how delicious the food tastes. And judging by the number of cars you’ll find in the parking lot, so do their customers.

The fries are available in two distinct configurations: the traditional crinkle cut or the crisscross style. Both are delicious, especially when topped with a generous slathering of ketchup and some salt. I don’t know which kind I like best, so my wife and I usually get an order of both. Things used to get a bit testy when we got down to the last crisscross fry, sometimes we’d arm wrestle for it. We finally wised up in that department. Now, we just get a third order. It keeps peace in the family.

RED OR WHITE?

But where are my manners? You say you’re not a burger aficionado? Well don’t despair, because Orbaker’s sells hot dogs, too. And not just any brand of hot dogs either. They sell Zweigle’s, which are made a few miles west in Rochester. For the record, Zweigle’s has been cranking out hot dogs since 1880, and they’ve earned the reputation for producing some of the nation’s finest, both red and white. Look at it this way, between Zweigle’s and Orbaker’s they have over two centuries of expertise in making good food and serving it up just the way folks like it – hot, tasty and fresh.

If you’re making your initial visit, reading the menu board might be a bit confusing, especially if you’re not a Finger Lakes native. So here’s a hot dog primer for you. A “Texas” hot is a red hot dog, and a “porker” is a white one. I grew up in Rochester and still haven’t figured out why red hots are referred to as “Texas.” I’ve eaten hot dogs while visiting Texas, and believe me, they don’t taste anything like Zweigle’s. A white hot dog is actually a lightly spiced variety of bratwurst. I like both, and often treat myself to one of each when I visit. I’m especially fond of the way they’re prepared. They’re served “butterfly” style, meaning that they’ve been split down the middle and grilled on the inside, too.

Any way you slice it, Orbaker’s is a feast for both the nose and the palate. And here’s a thought: if it’s a sunny afternoon, dine alfresco in the shady picnic area. “Alfresco” means outside (I always thought it meant naked).

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GETTING THERE

From Rochester: Route 104E. After you cross the intersection with Route 21, Orbaker’s will be 3 miles ahead on your left. Total driving distance: about 32 miles.

From Syracuse or points east: Route 104W. As you near the Village of Williamson, Orbaker’s will be on the righthand side of the road. From the intersection of routes 370W and 104W, driving distance is approximately 25 miles.

New York State Thruway: Exit at Manchester/ Shortsville/Palmyra (Exit 43). North on Route 21 to Williamson, then right onto Route 104E. Orbaker’s will be 3 miles ahead on your left. Total driving distance: about 23 miles.


by Rich Finzer