The Mission Restaurant in downtown Syracuse serves a great Mexican menu in a repurposed historic church
by Chris Clemens
The Mission Restaurant in downtown Syracuse serves up a great Pan-American menu while repurposing a historic church.
This old church used to be a Wesleyan Methodist place of worship, but has more recently been remodeled with Mexican folk art. There’s an Our Lady Of Guadalupe represented by a wall statue. You’ll find Dios de Los Meurtes “sugar skulls” and tin Sacred Hearts scattered around the entire restaurant. It all makes for a super colorful place to have enjoyed my migas for breakfast while in town.
With most of that decor also tattooed on my arm, I felt particularly at home. Though the server was great, he didn’t know a lot about the history of the church. Luckily I’ve been able to find a bit of the story out there on the internet.
Wesleyan Methodist Church
Like many others in Upstate NY, there were a lot of Syracuse community members heavily active with the abolition movement. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was actually a break-off sect from another church over a disagreement about slavery.
This group built their church in 1847 and was led by the founding pastor, Luther Lee. The congregation was quite progressive and dedicated to the service of freeing slaves. In fact, Wesleyan Methodist is responsible for helping to free the only slave ever caught in Syracuse.
I wasn’t allowed to see it during my visit, but below the church is a tunnel once used in the Underground Railroad.
Over the years historians have discovered numerous artifacts and inscriptions in the tunnel. Preservations groups have been really successful in raising money to preserve both the artifacts and the building. In an effort to preserve them, many of those found pieces are in safe keeping with the Onondaga Historical Association.
Repurposing The Mission Restaurant
Historical preservation and restoration projects are a difficult topic. The discussions seem to always be riddled with politics and money.
In many projects I’ve seen there is a battle between paying to keep history exactly the way it was left, and investing to repurpose the space in to an establishment that people will use regularly rather than just as a museum space. I’d probably always choose to leave history as it was, but realistically I understand there isn’t a lot of people investing in that.
The super colorful Mexican folk art and really great food (the migas did well when compared to my experience at The Original Blanco Cafe in San Antonio, TX!) I think won me over. If you have a historical establishment and need to repurpose it into something entirely different than what it once was, I hope you can pull it off as well as The Mission Restaurant has.
If you’re in town, you should totally stop in and get a strawberry Jarillos!!
*This post previously appeared on ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens