Neighborhood Watch: Westcott Nation
The Syracuse neighborhood known as the Westcott Nation is slowly transforming into a livable area. With one of the most diverse sets of restaurants and businesses tailored to the local residents, but the neighborhood needs basic upkeep and more carefully-planned growth to realize its full potential.
The triangle formed by the 400-500 block of Westcott Street, South Beech Street and Dell Street might have the most diverse food offerings of any Syracuse city blocks. In the short stretch in the center of the Westcott Nation you can find restaurants serving Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Japanese and American comfort food.
A short walk on South Beech Street tells you who these restaurants serve. In late May it seems every house has an “Apartment for Rent” sign nailed to the siding. This is a college student ghetto. That leads to two of the challenges for the area; upkeep and sustainability.
The landlords that rent to the students clearly haven’t prioritized upkeep or the gradual gentrification of the neighborhood. The sidewalks are uneven, every house seems in need of a paint job, and the lawns are generally unkempt. Continue west and you enter the shadow of Syracuse University, the heart of the economy for this neighborhood.
But cross to the other side of Westcott street and the neighborhood changes. Three short streets, Harvard Place, Victoria Place and Concord Place run east toward Westmoreland Avenue, and the number of owner-occupied houses radically increases. The people who own these homes represent a mixture of University faculty and staffers, retirees and not a few entrepreneurs.
Roy Gutterman, a professor of communications law at Syracuse University lives in this neighborhood. He chose Westcott to settle down almost nine year ago because, “Westcott was just far enough away that you don’t have the undergraduate population.” But things seem to have changed in recent years. As properties on the west side have come up for sale, absentee landlords have snapped them up. That’s brought an increasing number of students. “They throw parties, they are disruptive, and I had somebody break a window on my house. I’ve seen street fights. And some of them are not even Syracuse students. That’s all the functions of having landlords that don’t live in the neighborhood. They don’t really always invest in their properties. They’ve done a bare minimum to maintain the housing.”
Another long-time resident is Ann Milner, a watercolor artist who loves the eclectic neighborhood. Asked what she values most she responds hesitation. “The diversity” she says, “there’s no question this is an incredibly diverse neighborhood.”
There’s no better example of that diversity than the food offerings just in the central business hub. Starting at the corner of Dell and Westcott and moving south, your choices:
• Picasso’s Pastries (a bakery seemingly dedicated to exploring flavor possibilities)
• New Garden Chinese (very quick delivery service and good deals)
• Papa John’s Pizza (a chain restaurant)
• Asahi Sushi (one of the newest restaurants in the area)
• Beer Belly Deli and Pub (the only restaurant claiming to serve ‘American’ food)
• Taste of India (well-known for their chicken biryani)
• Recess Coffee (a nice little shop that roast their own beans)
• Mom’s Diner (the place for undergraduates to feed their hangover)
• Alto Cinco (Mexican, and the most successful restaurant in the Westcott Nation)
• Munjed’s Middle Eastern Restaurant ( a local family owned place with relaxing atmosphere)
• Dorian’s (Pizza, where customers rave about the bacon cheeseburger)
• Taps Bar and Restaurant (a neighborhood bar owned by a local family)
• Las Delicias (Latin American and Cuban cuisine)
• Mello Velo Bicycle Shop and Café(a perfect combination of mechanical expertise and sandwiches geared for your taste buds)
Among this group, Alto Cinco is probably the most successful restaurant, and, according to the local residents, the place that best represents the Westcott spirit. Located between the Westcott Theater and Dorian’s pizza parlor, Alto Cinco recently expanded, more than doubling the number of seats in its dining room.
That success comes from the rabidly loyal following, people who come back over and over for the food. “I love the food—the flavors and choices.” says Ipsitaa Panigrahi, a graduate student who lives on the student side of the neighborhood. “They fit their business to their customer’s lifestyle. They deliver so late and it’s wonderful—it means you can have an impromptu party with friends almost any time!”
Beer Belly Deli & Pub is relative a new comer to this neighborhood that bills itself as an upscale comfort food eatery and gastropub. “They’ve got a great beer selection,” says Jeffrey Bieber, a Syracuse local. “And I love the Pig-and-egg sandwich. The chef does an amazingly creative job with such simple ingredients. Three word—beer infused ketchup—I get that with the waffle fries. It’s out of this world”
Bieber doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but he drives there regularly to have a beer or to pick up food.
That’s another limit to the neighborhood. Parking is limited, and what lots there are often have ominous warning signs threatening that non-customers will be towed. If the neighborhood wants to increase its customer base it will have to find a way.