News of Otsego County

Mel’s at 22

COVID Shutters Mel’s, Otesaga Until New Year

COVID Shutters Mel’s,

Hawkeye Into New Year

COOPERSTOWN – With Heidi Bond, Otsego County Public Health Director, citing “at least one case”  of COVID-19 each among staff members at Mel’s at 22 and the Hawkeye Grill at The Otesaga, both restaurants have temporarily shut their doors to diners.

“Until recently, we have been very fortunate that our Mel’s at 22 community has not been affected by COVID 19,” wrote Brian Wrubleski, owner of Mel’s, in a Facebook posting on Christmas Eve. “Last week one of our servers tested positive. In accordance with the best practices from the department of health, we have decided to remain closed until the new year. This will give us time to make sure that all of our team members are safe and healthy before returning to serving you.”

You’ll Have It TO GO! From Emergency, Novelty: Folks Around County Pick Up Dinners

You’ll Have It TO GO!

From Emergency, Novelty: Folks

Around County Pick Up Dinners

Mel’s at 22 proprietor Brian Wrubleski packs to-go dinners with the help of daughter Alex Gauther, left, and Tomeka Ray. (Jim Kevlin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – At Brooks House of BBQ, the staff can’t answer the phones fast enough.

“We’re going to add additional phone lines,” said owner Ryan Brooks. “They’re just ringing constantly.

Council Rock Brewery’s Kyle Llewellyn fills a “crowler” can – that’s half a growler – as Manager Becky Davidson supervises. (Jim Kevlin/

With Governor Cuomo’s order that all “non-essential” businesses be shuttered, restaurants can no longer accommodate dine-in customers.

“When the quarantines started happening last week, I walked into work and there were no customers coming in,” said Brian Wrubleski, who owns Mel’s at 22, Cooperstown. “It was like someone took something out of my heart.”

Some, like Morey’s and The Depot in Oneonta, the Doubleday Café in Cooperstown and Jackie’s in Milford, simply closed.

Many others, including Mel’s, Brooks, Council Rock Brewery and The Otesaga’s Hawkeye Grill have quickly adapted to take-out and delivery.

“I don’t think a lot of people know which restaurants are open,” said Council Rock’s Becky Davidson. “But it’s always nice to see some friendly faces.”

Take-out isn’t new to Brooks, but the spread of COVID-19 prompted Ryan to move up his plan to add delivery. “We want to help get people the food they want,” he said. “We deliver within a 10-mile radius with no fee, but it’s a $20 minimum order.”

In addition to the company vans – a frequent sight around the county in the summer – Ryan put his own SUV up for delivery. “The crew is having fun in my car,” he said.

Some, like John Shideler, The Otesaga’s new general manager, are finding ways to add new offerings to their “to-go” menu. “We’ve added a grilled salmon so we have a fish offering,” he said. “And we’re absolutely still offering our desserts: We have a new apple cinnamon bread pudding.”

The response, he said, has been strong. “We’re a favorite in the community,” he said. “The community has been so welcoming to me, and we want our customers to feel comfort knowing that we’re still here.”

“We’ve been doing take-out all along with our fish fry, so we had a busy Friday,” said Davidson. “And I posted on Facebook to let people know that our shrimp and garlic pesto fries are still available, so people know they can still get their favorites.”

“It’s a different methodology,” said Wrubleski. “With dine-in, it’s a full-service interaction with the customer. You make the meal look beautiful on the plate. But we’re trying to make it look beautiful in the take-out box too.”

Although face-to-face interaction has been minimized, he’s still finding new ways to interact with his customers. “I do most of the deliveries myself,” he said. “We include two free cookies with every order, and my daughter Alex writes a little message on every one of the boxes.”

Similarly, The Otesaga is including a card from the staff with each order. “When we re-open, they can bring it to The Hawkeye or The 1909 and get a free glass of wine,” said Shideler. “It’s our way of saying thank you to all the people who are supporting us through these difficult times.”

And Wrubleski is concerned about the employees he had to temporarily lay off. “It’s depressing,” he said. “A lot of people in this industry live paycheck-to-paycheck, and I’m trying to support them as best I can.”

In addition to delivery and manning phones, Ryan has shifted some employees to the bottling plant to keep them on payroll. “These are tough times, but we’ll get through them together,” he said.

“Food is comfort,” said Wrubleski. “We like to try and do things to make people happy.”

New Bar Installed As Mel’s Redo Nears End


New Bar Installed As

Mel’s Redo Nears End

Clerk of the Works Frank Halay, right, directs the installation of the new bar, as a month-long renovations at Mel’s at 22, the Cooperstown hot spot, is nearing completion. The bar was built in Amish carpenter Paul Byler’s shop in the Town of Springfield and transported down East Lake Road at noon today to restaurateur Brian Wrubleski’s establishment.  Next to Halay are Mike Beilby, Sean Murray, Adam Halay, William Bawolak, Shannon Hugick and Jacob Stutzman.   Mel’s regulars have been asking, what happened to the cow?  Inset right, Frank Halay unloads the spruced up painting from the truck, ready to once again hang over Mel’s bar.  The bar and restaurant is expected to be open for business again next Wednesday. (Larissa Ryan/


Parade, Poetry, & Party

To Celebrate New Year


New Years Eve!

CELEBRATION – 5 p.m. Start a safe & sober New Years celebration with parade down Main St. followed by poetry readings, festival featuring live music, games, dancing, & special guest Anthony Eardley, Oneonta’s American Ninja Warrior. Then first ever talent show featuring $1000 prize at 7:30, then black-light after-party featuring entertainment by Cosmic Karma Fire Spinners. Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. 607-431-2080 or visit

With Music, Good Cheer Mel’s At 22 Marks Fifth


With Music, Good Cheer

Mel’s At 22 Marks Fifth

Surrounded by family, friends and patrons, Brian Wrubleski and his family at this hour this evening the fifth anniversary of Mel’s at 22, which quickly established a place in Cooperstown’s restaurant and social scene.  Brian is flanked his daughters, Alex Gauther, right, and Natalie Wrubleski, and joined by his in-laws, Richard and Dorothy Dabrowski, visiting from Webster, Mass.  The Dabrowskis are parents of Brian’s wife Maryellen, the restaurant’s namesake, who passed away in 2013.  (Jim Kevlin/
Tomato Cream Sauce? Yum! And Mel’s Reuben? Double Yum!


Tomato Cream Sauce? Yum!

Mel’s Reuben? Double Yum!

Recently, my family went to Bella Michael’s for dinner without me, but my husband promised he would bring me something from there.

That something turned out to be Bella Michael’s very appropriately named “Chicken Fantasia,” grilled chicken breast topped with a tomato cream sauce, roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes, all topped with Swiss cheese. It came with sides of spaghetti, salad and dinner roll.

I love pretty much any kind of cream sauce, but tomato cream sauce ranks way up there. It was definitely the crème de la crème of this dish, but the peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and Swiss cheese all brought it to “Fantasia” level. Having lived in Louisiana for six years, I plan to try the
special Cajun crabmeat sauce with my pasta for my next meal there, but I’m circling back to Fantasia for the meal after that one.

Bella Michael’s is on the pricey side, but very much worth the splurge. Your taste buds will thank you. (Bella Michaels, 57 River St, Oneonta)

Staff Reporter

Mel’s at 22 is here to stay! There have been so many restaurants on the corner of Main and Chestnut in Cooperstown that have come and gone, but Mel’s serves quality food at good prices with a nice atmosphere … a combination of a restaurant that will be here for many years!

A Reuben is a Rueben is a Rueben, right? Not so at Mel’s. First, it’s Mel’s own corned beef, topped with
imported Swiss and sauerkraut, then Thousand Island dressing.

I’m a bread freak, but not so much a rye bread fan, so I had it on a Heidelberg bread ciabatta that was fresh, grilled panini-style and all of the goodness melded together. Served with the village’s best French fries and you’ve got me coming back for more! (Mel’s at 22, 22 Chestnut St., Cooperstown)

General Manager

Some say it’s the water that makes Upstate NY pizza as delicious as it is. Maybe it’s that we go heavy on the cheese and stay away from overly sweet sauce.

Whatever it is, Sal’s in Oneonta puts it all together to slice up an oversized piece of heaven, served city-style on a paper plate with a fountain soda, just the way it should be.

There’s nothing fancy about Sal’s, but with the big front window and the cheery lighting, it’s like a beacon in the night after a long day. You can get a simple cheese slice or go crazy and get one loaded up with chicken, bacon and ranch! It’s all delicious.

Don’t sleep on the wings either – their garlic parmesan wings are so heavy with the good stuff that you need a dozen napkins – one for each bite! (Sal’s Pizzeria, 285 S. Main St., Oneonta)

Managing Editor

Local favorite Pop’s Place is best known for its ice cream, but that’s not all it sells. Order up Pop’s Big Burger and enjoy a delicious burger that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The two patties of juicy hamburger, each with a single slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and two slices of bacon combine for a satisfyingly delicious meal that doesn’t fall apart on the first bite. (Pop’s Place, 4347 NY-28, Milford)

Office Manager

If you like great sandwiches with weird names, then Undercover Eggplant is the place for you! Painted in purple and green in Oneonta’s West End, this sandwich shop quickly became a favorite with locals and visitors alike. Homemade breads, quality ingredients and creative combinations of flavor and texture help make every sandwich on their menu a winner.

Whether you are looking for a sandwich piled with meats (The Wash House) or a vegetarian option sure to fill you up (The Eggplant Special), the Undercover Eggplant is sure to have your new favorite sandwich nestled between two slices of their homemade bread.

Personal favorites include The One Stop, a breaded chicken breast with melted mozzarella, red onion, pesto mayo and artichoke hearts, or The Hertha Winch, which features chicken breast,
pepperoni, melted mozzarella and cajun Mayo.

Also check out their large list of seasonal specialty sandwiches, which will all be on the wall where you go to order. (Undercover Eggplant, 421 Chestnut St. Oneonta)

Staff Photographer


Mel’s, For A Good Meal – And, If Needed, Help


Mel’s, For A Good Meal

– And, If Needed, Help

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Brian Wrubleski, here with daughter/business partner Alex, last week saved a patron at the table behind them from choking. He recalled that, on Alex’s first day in the restaurant business, she’d similarly been called upon to perform the Heimlich as well. (Jim Kevlin/

COOPERSTOWN – Working in the kitchen at Mel’s at 22 late last week, Brian Wrubleski got the word:  “Somebody’s choking.”

One waitperson had already attempted the Heimlich maneuver, he was told.

Walking out onto the restaurant floor, Wrubleski saw a second waitperson was performing the maneuver on a customer who, with a morsel trapped in his windpipe, had fallen out his chair in the restaurant’s southeast corner.


Fall Guitar Fest Concert


GUITAR CONCERT – 7:30 p.m. Headline concert of Classical Guitar Fall Festival features The Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo performing de Falla, Rossini, Moravec, more. Fine Arts Building, SUNY Oneonta. 607-865-8775 or visit

CONCERT SERIES – 7:30 p.m. Open 49th Cooperstown Concert series featuring Molly Tuttle, performing distinctly original works. Ballroom, Village Hall, Cooperstown. 607-547-1812 or visit


Design, Print 3-D Valentine’s Gift


Check back at 5 p.m. for tomorrow’s events.

3-D PRINTING – 10-11:30 a.m. Design a keepsake heart box for someone special. Fee based on weight Registration required. Huntington Memorial Library, 62 Chestnut St., Oneonta. Info,

YPN NETWORKING – 6-8 p.m. Come meet young professionals from the Otsego area. The topic for this evening is community involvement. The Beverage Exchange, 73 Main St., Cooperstown. Info,

FUNDRAISER – 7 p.m. Live music will be performed. The public may donate for the opportunity to perform. Donations go to the Cooperstown Lion’s Club fund to support area residents to lessen financial stress. Mel’s at 22, Cooperstown. Info,


Play Pong With Friends, At Mel’s


PONG TOURNAMENT – 6-9 p.m. Mel’s at 22, 22 Chestnut St, Cooperstown.

CHILDREN’S STORY HOUR – 10:30-11:30 a.m. Cooperstown Village Library, 22 Main St., Cooperstown. Info,

DISCUSSION GROUP – 3-5 p.m. Discussion of current events. Cooperstown Village Library, 22 Main St., Cooperstown. Info,

ICE SKATING – 3-7 p.m. Badger Park, Cooperstown.

GAGA BALL – 3:30-5 p.m. Clark Sports Center, 124 Cty. Hwy. 52, Cooperstown.

Husband Dedicates Mel’s To Wife’s Memory

Husband Dedicates Mel’s To Wife’s Memory

By LIBBY CUDMORE • The Freeman’s Journal

Edition of Thursday, Dec. 4, 2015


Daughter Alex and her husband Steve are participating in Brian Wrubleski’s venture. (Jim Kevlin/The Freeman's Journal)
Daughter Alex and her husband Steve are participating in Brian Wrubleski’s venture. (Jim Kevlin/The Freeman’s Journal)

Opening Mel’s at 22 was not just a dream come true for Brian Wrubleski – it was a chance to honor his wife, MaryEllen, who died Dec. 21, 2013, at age 53.

“It had been a goal of ours for a long time,” he said as he stirred a batch of his homemade clam chowder in preparation for a Monday lunch crowd. “After she passed away, we found this location. She always said, ‘When it’s the right time, it’s the right time.’ I guess now was the right time.”

The restaurant, in the space that once housed Sherry’s, a legendary Cooperstown soda shop, opened in early November and in the three weeks, Wrubleski’s cuisine – including specialties like fried pork belly, grilled salmon with Asian-inspired glaze and Southwest-inspired chicken – have drawn rave reviews and a packed dining room.

“It’s good, classic American fare with an ethnic flair,” he said.

Wrubleski, a former Webster, Mass., police officer who graduated second in his culinary class from Johnson & Wales, is Bassett’s former head of dining, and worked two years as the head chef at the Otsego Country Club. “My parents were bakers,” he said. “I’m trying to use lots of local foods, and I make almost everything from scratch.”

And it’s a family affair. Daughters Natalie and Alex manage, hostess and serve, while son-in-law Steve Gunther works behind the bar. “Steve and I were living in North Carolina and I was working in an office, but secretly, I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Alex. “When it came around for my dad, I felt like it was right!”

But he also shares his kitchen knowledge with staff who aren’t blood relatives. “I try to show my team everything I know about hard work,” he said. “I put in 12 to 16 hour days, but the end result is that I get watch people enjoy my food.”

And even more than a restaurant, it’s a chance for Wrubleski to join in the community. “My biggest passion is when I see people at the store or at the gym, and they tell me they love this place. They’ve given me so much support in this endeavor.”

It’s part of the reason he makes good food at reasonable prices. A 12-ounce sirloin steak with three sides costs $23, his specialty fried haddock costs $15. “I want to take care of the locals,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to say, ‘It was good, but I can’t afford to eat there again’.”

He’s also starting to offer more gluten-free and vegetarian options.

MaryEllen was the chairwoman of the annual food drive for the Cooperstown Food Pantry, and with the one-year anniversary coming up, Wrubleski plans to honor her memory by making sure everyone in the community has enough good food to eat. “I’m going to volunteer down at one of the food pantries on Christmas,” he said. “I realized I have to give back some of what I’ve had to those less fortunate.”

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21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103