The sign scribbles Charlize’s place with a sketch of a welcoming woman with a smile. This is a small colorful building with a spacious outdoor seating area with a wide view of Paris. New York, that is.
But it’s the interior decor that catches you and doesn’t let you go once you’ve walked through the door of this adorable little diner. The owner, Karen Knuth, who started a waitress at her local Howard Johnson store at age 16, noticed that the wallpaper was there when she bought the place, but the rest is all about it.
“It’s a very early garage sale,” Knuth joked, looking at the knick-knacks, wall signs, silk tulips, etc.
At this point, one of the waitresses was busy doing her concluding side, “Everyone always says they like garnish!”
“People say it looks like their grandmother’s house,” Knuth said.
And what could be more comfortable than that?
The site, at the height of Clinton’s Seneca Turnpike climb, above the New Hartford city line, was originally called Piggly Wiggly in the 1960s, when it was a sausage stand and mini golf course. It’s since gone from parking to dive bar to dinner, but it’s always been a gathering place for Mohawk Valley residents to share a beer, coffee or meal and good company.
Knauth herself is a lifelong resident of central New York, born in Syracuse, raised in the Cherry Valley, and raised in Kirkland when the young family moved there when she was a teenager. She graduated from Saint Francis de Sales High School in Utica and started working as a waitress full time. This diner bought and opened by Charlize’s Place on September 4, 1997, just four months earlier than 25 years ago.
Knuth remembers the early years working, on weekday mornings, the first few hours alone, at both the cooking and waiting tables.
“There is no job in the place that I have not done, and I will not ask anyone else to do work that I will not,” Knuth said.
Knauth’s ethic was inspired by her hard-working single mother, Charlett. When Knauth discovered the restaurant’s fault, he was contagious, as it wasn’t long before Charlett left work in the office for the kinetic pace and friendship to join the crew at a local restaurant. At one point, mother and daughter worked together on the floor, with the mother becoming known as “Charlie” for short, and thus the daughter, “Charlie Jr.”
Knauth is smiling heartily at the idea of naming “Charlie’s Place” in honor of her mother, with whom she worked alongside, until the outbreak, which prompted Charlie to retire at the age of 86.
On a rainy Sunday morning, Charlize Bliss was packed with everyone from regular retirees at the table to two local teens at breakfast date tucked away in a two-deck table to the Hamilton College graduate and his family in the oversized back cabin. The background music is the buzz of conversations with the country pop music of “Mr. BoJangles” to “Drift Away” to “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Sunday breakfast extends from specials like the Italian scramble to strawberry French-toasted cheesecake to the regular menu, which includes the usual dinner fare.
Some of Charlie’s Place’s in-house specialties include Benedicts – they have a whole chain of Benedicts, – Giambrotte, for which there is no respectable communal breakfast menu in the Northern Territory without a copy, and The Mountain – Charlie’s favorite with two eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, onions and peppers French fries and hash browns are all mixed together and stacked in a pile. Add meat broth and it is called volcano.
“We are mostly known as the breakfast place,” said Knuth, who looks to the flock of regulars to gather daily for everything Monday through Thursday early breakfast special from 6 to 8 a.m. — two eggs, home fries, toast and coffee for 6.95 Dollars – into an everyday special like cinnamon bun pancakes. “But we have to make them think of us for lunch!”
Charles Place’s brunch menu, if no one is drawn to the daily specials like mushroom stew, meatloaf or Friday skillet, features a pound of burgers, sandwiches, salads, wraps, melts, cheese, French dip, and a selection of Poultry including chicken fingers, chicken parmesan sandwich and chicken tender BLT.
Then add the homemade sweets.
Side dishes include French fries, onion rings, French fries, “dirty potatoes” (add broth, bacon bits, and cheddar cheese), tossed green salad, homemade soups, homemade coleslaw, mac and potato salad.
The cole slaw was a treat with the fisherman’s dish, chopped in place of cabbage and shredded carrots with a light but creamy dressing, and the potato salad was homemade, uniquely seasoned with a perfect dash of egg.
The food is great, but Knauth’s favorite thing about Charlie’s Place is the people.
“I met a lot of people and a lot of them became like family,” she said.
She considers herself fortunate to have been “enjoyed by a really great staff” who are also part of that family and hopes that in the future the Charlie’s Place family will expect “a warm and friendly atmosphere, lots of great food, great service” when they first visit.
“There is a sign hanging above the door outside that says, ‘Come as strangers, leave as friends,'” Knuth said.
He reminded her of a group of old men who don’t know each other. They are retired or have lost their wives.. they live alone. One day they all came to breakfast, sat at the table and had a conversation with each other, and then another day. Now, they look forward to enjoying brunch together every day at Charlie’s Place.
“It’s like daytime” Cheers. “Everyone knows your name,” she said.
Charlie’s Place is located at 8170 Seneca Turnpike, Clinton. Breakfast and lunch are served from 6 AM to 2 PM from Monday to Friday and from 6 AM to 1 PM on Saturday. Breakfast is only served from 6 AM to 1 PM on Sundays. Enjoy seasonal al fresco dining and free Wi-Fi. Customers who pay with cash enjoy a 3.9% discount. For more information, like and follow Charlie’s Place on Facebook.