By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – There are plenty of places in Otsego County to get drive-thru food.
But the Blue Mingo is the only place to get boat-thru food.
“On busy nights, we’ll come and serve you on your boat!” said owner Michael Moffat. “We have a lot of people who come and order while they’re out on the lake – we know they’ll bring the silverware back.”
Now in its 25th year, what started as a humble hot dog stand is now destination dining for baseball stars, opera fans and anyone who wants to enjoy a meal overlooking Otsego Lake.
“One night, I got a call that George W. Bush and Nolan Ryan were in and the hostess had turned them away because we didn’t have space,” he said. “I told her, ‘You juggle tables for Nolan Ryan!’”
Moffat and his wife, Cory, returned from London in 1986 to take over her father Sam Smith’s boatyard. “Everything was in disrepair,” he said. “We opened on July 4, it was a beautiful day, but no one came by! They were used to the boatyard being closed on weekends.”
They made it through the season, and re-opened the next year with Dot’s Hot Dog stand, named for Cory’s grandmother. “We operated that until 1993, when Paul Kellogg complained that there were no good restaurants for his opera people,” he said.
Thus, the Blue Mingo was born. “We were successful from the beginning,” he said. “Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we served 40,000 meals,” he said.
They also answered a lot of questions, including
These days, the wait staff all wear the answers on the back of their shirts – including #9, where the answer is simply “No.”
“The question for that is, ‘Have you seen Carol?’” – Carol Leeds, the general manager – “And the answer is always no – nein – because we can never find her!”
Another popular question is where they got the name. “A ‘Mingo’ is an Indian who was banished from his tribe for bad behavior,” said Michael. “One man insisted it was a bird, even though his wife said it was an Indian, so he spray-painted a bunch of plastic flamingos blue, put them on the coast and pointed them out to her!”
In keeping with the open-air, Adirondack-camp feel of the restaurant, for the first few years all the dishes were made in an outdoor kitchen. “We called it ‘Creative Grill Cuisine,’” said Cory. “I would even grill the desserts, like pineapple on pound cake.”
It’s a tradition they keep up, although modified. Their most popular dessert is S’mores. The wait staff brings the ingredients – marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate and graham crackers – and diners roast them to perfection over a small hibachi.
“The kids love it,” said Michael. “And, of course, you can smell it across the porch, so then everyone else orders it! It’s very nostalgic.”
They’re well-known for their seafood – including shrimp and grits, lobster and salmon – but if you miss the old days of Dot’s, don’t worry – they still have two hot dogs on the menu: The Boatyard Dog, a ¼ pound kosher hot dog just like the old days, or, for the truly daring, Larry’s Death Dog, stuffed with cheddar, wrapped in bacon and deep fried.
They also offer entrees with lamb, beef and chicken, for the more land-minded diner.
“95 percent of our cuisine is local,” he said. “We own a farm, so when you get a salad here, the lettuce was picked the same day.”
In addition to the restaurant, they still operate the boat yard as well, and the Lake Classic Outfitters, which sells gifts and lake-inspired fashion.
They’re open seven days a week through Labor Day, and in the fall, they’ll add a Sunday Brunch, which will continue through Columbus Day. “Sometimes we’ll get lucky with the weather!”