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The Pok-A-Dot, a Batavia landmark, turns 60 this month

By Howard B. Owens

The Pok-A-Dot turns 60 years old this month and co-owner Phil Pastore couldn't be happier.

Not many restaurants survive 60 years, and fewer still with the same ownership.

"It’s probably one of the greatest things in my life, to own something for 60 years and still be alive to appreciate it," Pastore said.

"We're quite proud," said his wife, Leona, "quite proud."

Pastore said his friend Joe Marone, who ran a concession business, came to him one day while he was working at Masse Harris and suggested they open a hot dog stand at the corner of Ellicott and Liberty streets.

In the 60 years since, the Pok-A-Dot has become a landmark, a throwback to a simpler time of friends and neighbors seeing each other every day and sharing a bite to eat. It was the favorite restaurant of famed author John Gardner and has become a must-visit stop for many politicians on the campaign trail.

It's been featured in international media reports.

And still, it's a place where locals come for coffee and breakfast or a beef-on-weck every day.

"It's the food," Pastore said, explaining the Pok-A-Dot's success. "And it's a very friendly place, a place where you can sit around an eat and talk with people. That's what it's really known for."

The 60th anniversary celebration will be from 5 to 9 p.m., June 22. Musician Bill McDonald and friends will play and many old friends are sure to gather.

Photo: Joe Marone, Joanne Cox, Phil Pastore and Nicole Johnson.

Photo: '30 Ford replica roadster at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

Tom Hallock thought the weather good enough today -- the sun was out this morning -- to pull his '30 Ford roadster replica out of storage and take it for a drive. He stopped at the Pok-A-Dot for lunch. The car, originally from 1978, is built with an engine and interior out of a 1978 Ford Granada.

Speaking of the Dot, the famed diner's 60th Anniversary celebration is set for June 22, starting at 5 p.m. with live music.

Photos: Chris Collins stops at Pok-A-Dot for Election Day lunch

By Howard B. Owens

Calling it an Election Day tradition, Chris Collins drove to Batavia today for lunch at the Pok-A-Dot. Collins had lunch at the Dot the day of the GOP primary when he beat David Bellavia.

The Pok-A-Dot, he said, is kind of like a lucky charm.

Collins had no other campaign stops to make today with the race now in the hands of the voters of the NY-27. 

While Collins said he feels good about his chances against incumbent Kathy Hochul, he is short of predicting victory, knowing it's likely to be a close vote.

Photos: The Travel Channel at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

If the Pok-A-Dot isn't already world famous, it soon will be.

A crew from the international version of the Travel Channel stopped by the legendary diner Friday to film a segment for part of an episode on Upstate New York.

"Most people in the world, when they think of New York, they think, ‘oh, the city,’ but there’s actually a lot more to it than that," said the show's presenter, Julian Hanton (the bloke in the sunglasses in all the pictures -- and we can say bloke, because the crew is from the U.K., though Hanton is originally from New Zealand).

The Pok-A-Dot was suggested by the tourism agency and the crew. Hanton said they wanted to get places in the more rural communities, though they have visited Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester.

The seven-part show will visit seven states, giving international viewers a wider perspective of the United States, according to Hanton, but he doesn't expect the shows to air in the U.S. (although, they might).

Top Photo: The crew with Joanne Cox, Jennifer Hodgins, Nicci Johnson and Lisa Hodgins. Below, Jim Disalvo with Hanton and WHAM13's Sean Carroll interviewing Hanton.

Photos: John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

The John Gardner Society gathered Saturday at the Pok-A-Dot for the annual reading of the author's works.

Readers were Lucine, Bill and Gretel Kauffman, Erica Caldwell, Terry McCormack, Tracy Ford, Maureen Maas-Feary, Brian Paris, Helen Maier, Terry Abrams and John Maier.

WNED's Jay Moran recorded the readings and will air a segment later in the week, possibly on Wednesday.

If you can't view the slide show, click here.

Purple bench honoring Batavia's famed novelist installed outside the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

When you drive past the Pok-A-Dot today, you may notice a purple bench you've not seen before. It was installed today in honor of John Gardner, the world-famous novelist, poet and literary critic who grew up in Batavia and once considered the Pok-A-Dot his favorite eatery.

The bench, which cost a little less than $2,000, was bought and paid for by the John Gardner Society and installed by a city work crew.

"We wanted the bench to be in the spirit of both the Pok-A-Dot and John Gardner," said local author and Gardner Society member Bill Kauffman. "So, it is, ah, colorful (purple and yellow). Who knows -- maybe we'll paint polka dots on it later. Gardner once said,  'I think a writer who leaves his roots leaves any hope of writing importantly.' Well, his roots haven't forgotten him."

Kauffman said the group has talked for years about sponsoring a memorial for Gardner. Since the group holds its annual Gardner reading each October at the Pok-A-Dot and he included "the Dot" in one of his novels, it seemed like an appropriate spot for a memorial.

"We figured why not put a Gardner bench in front of this literary-culinary capital of Batavia?" Kauffman said.

Leona Pastore, whose family owns the Pok-A-Dot, was enthusiastic and helpful, Kauffman said. He also thanks City Manager Jason Molino for supporting the project and Ray Tourt and his staff for their assistance.

The plaque reads: JOHN C. GARDNER / Author, Teacher / 1933-1982 / Born in Batavia and raised on the family farm on Putnam Settlement Road, Gardner published more than 30 books of fiction, literary criticism, and advice for writers. The novel that brought him national recognition, The Sunlight Dialogues (1972), is set in Batavia and environs, including the Pok-a-Dot restaurant.

Photos: 14th Annual John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

It's been said that the Pok-A-Dot was John Gardner's favorite eatery. In "The Sunlight Dialogues," Gardner mentions the 56-year-old diner in one passage.

For 14 years, the John Gardner Society has gathered at The Dot to remember the man and read from his work.

Saturday, nine people took turns reading from a variety of his works, including novels, poems, short stories and nonfiction.

Pictured above, Erica Caldwell, owner of Present Tense Books on Washington Avenue.

After the jump are more pictures from the event.

Bill Kauffman, master of ceremonies.

Maureen Maas-Feary

Tracy Ford

Brian Paris

Helen Maier

Terry Abrams

Lucine Kauffman

John Gardner's younger brother, Jim Gardner.

John Maier

For the literary minded, a visit to Batavia includes the Pok-A-Dot and Present Tense

By Howard B. Owens

Blogger Stephan Lewandowski tells of his recent visit to Elba and Batavia, with the requisite visit to the Pok-A-Dot and search for a bookstore that sells Gardner and Kauffman.

On my way north on 63 near downtown I see the Pok-A-Dot is open for lunch business. The Pok-A-Dot is a 40s lunch counter, a tent of a building erected for temporary shelter but surviving into a new century. It must be nice in the summer because you can order your food, then sit under shelter off to the side of traffic to eat it up. In the winter, it seems to be made mostly of glass, and everybody crouches over the heat sources at the stove top, grill, and deep fryer. Almost all the patrons are men, and most have their coats and hats still on. All the cooks and servers are women.

In the Pok-A-Dot, there are six or eight tables and a counter seating twelve or fifteen that bends around the grill. I sit at the counter, nearer the heat. The waitress never offers me a menu. She just comes up and says, “What will you have?”

There's a variety of interesting regional foods available in New York

By Howard B. Owens

To a California boy like me, you would never think of New York being a hot spot for regional food.  That seems like a Southern thing, not a Yankee thing.

Now that I've lived her a while, I see that I suffered from a profound misconception. The rest of the nation may not know about New York's various delicacies, there there are plenty of specialty items throughout New York.

A food blogger started a conversation about NYS regional food, and our own Pok-A-Dot popped up in the conversation. Karen Seward leaves the comment:

Roast Beef on Weck from the Pok-A-Dot in Batavia
White Hot from Pok-A-Dot in Batavia
Pontillo’s Pizza in Batavia (they are now closed :-(

We should note, of course, that Pontillo's in LeRoy remains open and does deliver to Batavia.

Other regional foods mentioned:

  • Buffalo: Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings
  • Rochester Garbage Plate (Nick Tahoe’s was the 1st and is still the best)
  • Utica: Greens Romano (Escarole sautéed in Olive Oil & Garlic, seasoned with Prosciutto, Bread Crumbs, Romano & Hot Peppers).
  • Grape pie in Naples, NY.
  • Cider donuts - I’ve lived all over the east coast and never saw one till I went to Goolds.
  • Plattsburgh and North Country: Michigans (you’ll see these as Coney’s elsewhere, but they are very different from your standard chili dog)

What would you add?

Kauffman on Gardner night

By Howard B. Owens

Bill Kauffman's latest column for The American Conservative magazine is about the annual reading of John Gardner's works at the Pok-A-Dot, or as he spells it, the Pokadot (The Batavian may need to change its stylebook).

The piece is titled Gardening at Night (registration required for PDF version).

Our literary-culinary venue is the Pokadot, Gardner’s favorite diner, the unselfconsciously funky eatery at the epicenter of the Italian-Polish southside. (Gardner, a Welsh Presbyterian, frequently teased his people for their anti-Italian-Catholic prejudices while sharing them: a neat way to have your tortaand eat it too.)


Pokadot readers have included Gardner’s family and friends and people mentioned in his books, but most of us—teachers, a dairy salesman, our independent bookseller, and my wife, daughter, and I—know him only through the stories he wrote and the stories that are told about him still. (My dad, a few years behind him in school, said that Gardner was “weird.”)

A few regulars sit at the counter and sip coffee, bemused by the proceedings —maybe even edified, I like to kid myself.

Darrick Coleman covered this year's reading for The Batavian. His post and video are here.

While on the topic of Bill Kauffman, we recently found a video of a lecture he gave two years ago on Restoring American Regionalism. On the same site is a more recent lecture on Wendell Berry on War and Peace.

Batavia reads John Gardner

By Darrick Coleman

On Saturday October 18, 2008, Genesee County residents gathered to remember John Gardner, a well-known novelist and university professor who was born in Batavia, NY. He wrote more than twenty works of fiction, children's stories, poetry, and literary criticism. Among his most popular novels are Grendel (1971), The Sunlight Dialogues (1972),  Nickel Mountain (1973), and October Light (1976). Gardner died in a motorcycle crash near Susquehanna, PA, in 1982. He is buried in Batavia's Grandview Cemetery.

Ten people volunteered to read excerpts of Gardner's works for the evening's program including author Bill Kauffman and his daughter Gretel, a student at Elba High School; Tracy Ford, Associate Professor of English at Genesee Community College; Batavia Muckdogs President Brian Paris; and Erica Caldwell, owner of Present Tense bookstore. This was the 12th annual "Batavia Reads John Gardner" event at the Pok-a-Dot.


How one Batavian made it to the major leagues

By Howard B. Owens

The rain out of yesterday's Muckdog's game also washed away an opportunity to take in nine innings with Bill Kauffman

Instead, we sat in the stands above the soggy field surrounded by 500 restless summer camp kids and chatted until the din of some undefinable noises from the sound system drove us away.  Once we discovered a mutual affection for the Pok-A-Dot and concluded the game would not be played, we dashed over to the diner for lunch.

Having exhausted Google in requests for links to articles by Bill Kauffman, I asked him to send me some pointers to published pieces.

This morning's e-mail brings another essay about Batavia, Play Ball, in First Principles.

Kauffman delights in the quirky fates of life in America, where either by chance or odd ball persistence, people leave marks both indelible  and obscure. In "Play Ball," Kauffman passes along the tale of Vince Maney, perhaps the first and perhaps the only Batavian to ever play major league baseball.

The chance of a lifetime was the result of Ty Cobb fighting with a fan, which led to a suspension, which led to Cobb's teammates refusing to take the field, which led to a team of amateurs and semi-pros filling out the roster of the Detroit Tigers for one day nearly a century ago.

The game of May 18, 1912, was a rout. Emergency Tigers pitcher Aloysius Travers, who later became a Jesuit priest, was touched for twenty-four runs on twenty-six hits in eight innings. Who needs a bullpen? Vince Maney described the game in a letter to his brother: “I played shortstop and had more fun than you can imagine. Of course it was a big defeat for us, but they paid us $15 for a couple of hours work and I was satisfied to be able to say that I had played against the world champions. I had three putouts, three assists, one error, and no hits.”

If only Bill James had been sabermetricking in 1912. For Vince also walked once and was hit by a pitch, giving him an on-base percentage of .500. Calling Billy Beane!

Maney played under an assumed name that day. He was a strikebreaker, after all—a scab of sorts, although Ty Cobb wasn’t exactly Samuel Gompers. For nigh unto one hundred years the baseball record books listed Maney as Pat Meaney, forty-one, of Philadelphia. The fictive Meany’s made-up age gave him the specious distinction of being the oldest rookie ever to debut in the majors, till forty-two-year-old Satchel Paige joined Cleveland in 1948.

I just wish I had been in the stands last August when Kauffman read a Charles Bukowski poem to the fans between innings. Perhaps he can be persuaded to reprise the performance this summer.

New WBTA for The Batavian ad features friend of the site

By Howard B. Owens

We've been advertising The Batavian on WBTA since the site launched in May.  We're very happy with the results, but agree with Dan Fisher that our ad should be switched up once in a while to keep the message fresh.

A week or so ago, I sent Dan over a new script and he suggested hiring a female announcer this time to change the tone of the ad.

The new ad started running yesterday.  It features Nici Johnson, a young, ambitious Batavian who is working to break into broadcasting.

I know her mostly as a waitress/short order cook at the Pok-A-Dot, one of my favorite fine dining establishments in town (previous post), but Nici is also working for WBTA, a couple of radio stations in Buffalo (in promotions) and teaches modeling on Sundays.

Young people who work that hard to get ahead always do, so we can expect great things from Nici.

Here is an MP3 of the spot.

It's very cool, we think, that Dan picked Nici to do this spot.

Fine dining at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

This morning, breakfast at the Pok-A-Dot.

True greasy spoons are treasured finds these days. The Pok-A-Dot is a classic.

From the moment I walked in, I could see the crowded counter was full of local residents who probably had been coming there for years.

As I saddled up on an empty stool, I quickly observed -- no printed menus. Speedy decision, go for the safe, sure-to-serve choice to save fumbling over options and giving myself away as a first-timer (as if that wasn't obvious from the get-go), so I went for coffee, eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast.

A word about the coffee: It will wake you up in the early morning. 

The young ladies cooking and serving the food were friendly and knew everybody in the joint but me. The conversation was personal and never touched on anything more weighty than whether to pick the chocolate or glazed donut. It made for a relaxing meal.

As I've written before, Batavia benefits from an abundance of dining establishments.  My goal: To try them all.  Any suggestions for lunch today?

Meanwhile, Philip and I will be spending the better part of today hanging out at Main Street Coffee (our permanent office is near ready).  If you stop by, please be sure to say hello, and the coffee will be on us.

UPDATE: Using Google Image search to see if there were any pictures of the Pok-A-Dot floating around on the Web, I found "The Cyber Pok-A-Dot," a large collection of photos of Pok-A-Dot customers.  Very cool.

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