What do you think of when you hear the word “diner”? I think of thick malted milkshakes, neon lights behind block glass, and The Beach Boys playing on the jukebox. You might think that diners are a thing of the past but if you visit Rochester, NY you can time travel to the 1950s at Tom Wahl’s.
Tom Wahl’s is a diner chain based in the Rochester, NY and the surrounding Finger Lakes region. We decided to visit Tom Wahl’s because my boyfriend, Neil, attended SUNY Geneseo and would frequently visit the Tom Wahl’s in Avon, NY since it was close to the campus.
Avon was settled in 1789 and is a cute little town off the 390 south of Rochester. In 1955, Tom Wahl Sr. opened the first Tom Wahl’s restaurant in Avon.
You can see the neon framing the sign easily from the road in either direction. When you walk into the restaurant, it’s like stepping into the past. They have classic rock and R&B playing over the radio and every surface is shiny with stainless steel and checkered tile.
We placed our orders at the counter and waited for our food. Neil pointed out to me that TOM WAHL’S MAKES THEIR OWN ROOT BEER. Obviously I had to get some.
I am a root beer aficionado - it’s my favorite widely available soda. (My favorite soda of all time, Cheerwine, does not have national distribution. It tastes like cherries, turned 100 this year, and is delicious.) Tom Wahl’s root beer is not as spicy as Barq’s or as sweet as A&W - it’s mellow and delicious with notes of vanilla and licorice. You can get a root beer float but I just got soda because I didn’t want the root beer flavor to be modified by anything else.
We got our food and sat down - I ordered a Wahlburger. You may be thinking, “I thought those were sold by the Wahlberg brothers and featured on the show Wahlburgers on A&E?” You know, Mark Wahlberg of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and his brother Donnie from New Kids on the Block? Fun Fact: Mark and Donnie Wahlberg license the name “Wahlburger” from Tom Wahl’s. The Tom Wahl’s Wahlburger is a Ground Steak sandwich with melted swiss cheese, grilled smoked ham, lettuce, and special sauce on a seeded bun.
I got mine with onion rings because onion rings are the best.
See? Crispy and delicious. The best. (Excuse the frizz - humidity is my natural enemy.)
My Wahlburger was super tasty and unique. It was like the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches my grandparents used to make me as a kid ON TOP OF A HAMBURGER. A ground steak sandwich, excuse me. What is a ground steak sandwich, you ask? Let me explain…
Ground Steak sandwiches are made by pressing ground meat flat on a plate so they have more surface area. What does more surface area do? More surface area means your burger is going to cook through faster and have those awesome crusty bits on the edges from the grill. The burger is cooked through but maintains juiciness.
Future ground steak eating planning...
My dad has a set of plates from Syracuse China that have a haloed monk carrying a large fish in a basket on them. These plates are used exclusively for making hamburgers. I’m planning on stealing one the next time I go home so I can have thin, craggy burgers in Buffalo.
Back to Tom Wahl's
Neil and I enjoyed our meals. (He got french fries and I stole a few because they were delicious.) I listened to some stories from his college days. Visiting Tom Wahl’s is like a double time warp for him - it’s going back to mid-century America but also reminds him of what life was like when he was still in school. I really enjoyed hearing all his stories. (Neil decided to wear a shirt from Cats Like Us and it perfectly matched the vintage vibe at Tom Wahl’s!)
On our way to the car we found a super cool snake skin!
Creepy Cool! I wouldn’t want to mess with that guy…
Thanks for sharing in my adventure. Next time you’re in the Rochester area, visit Tom Wahl’s!