Hours: Seven days, 6 a.m.-midnight
Prices: Breakfast $3-12; lunch, $4-8; dinner, $8-13
Fare: American diner, complete with Greek specials
Atmosphere: Casual family dining in a Burton Morris gallery
Smoking: Separate sections
As a family, we have mixed views on family restaurants. On the one hand, they not only tolerate but literally cater to boisterous kids, at least one of which we count among our nuclear number. On the other, they're better known for middle-of-the-road menus than for culinary excellence. But when an establishment is handed from generation to generation, it suggests that something more than subsistence food is on offer. When Jason recently learned about a place that's been on Ardmore Boulevard the old Lincoln Highway since our parents were kids, he figured they must be doing something right.
The exterior of Drew's Family Restaurant is a tastefully anonymous relic of the 1970s, but the interior has taken on a sophisticated air thanks to prints by Burton Morris, local artist turned national success. Turns out he went to school with the current owner, which seems about right for Pittsburgh yeah, just another kid from the neighborhood.
The menu has a similarly homey feel, ranging literally from soup to nuts. It offers breakfast all day, burgers, pasta, steaks, salads and plenty of deep-fried delights. Though it's mostly traditional diner fare, there are also a few nods (such as nachos) to post-1950s dining trends, and some other dishes (such as linguini Santorini) betray the owners' Greek ancestry. It was a challenge to sample Drew's breadth, but modest prices let us feel free to order a little bit of everything, from Lenten fried fish to walnut pancakes to old-school veal Parmigiana. This method or perhaps it was our madness soon resulted in a table piled high with plates.
First to arrive was the kids' fish plate, a grownup-sized portion of lightly breaded, flaky filet. In Pittsburgh, a small pond full of fried fish, Drew's can stand proud with any of them. The fries were just as good: ultra-crispy outside, light and fluffy inside. Jason was less impressed by the homemade onion rings, in which the sautéed onions were out of balance with the fried breading.
He was much happier with his spanakopita, a special he hopes appears with regularity. This big wedge of crisp phyllo surrounding a spinach, feta, and egg filling showed that the authentic culinary traditions of Greece are still alive and well in Drew's kitchen. A delicious touch, more gourmet than diner, was a creamy block of feta alongside, as well as a few Greek olives.
Jason is a latter-day foodie who grew up dining out at luncheonettes and Lum's. Thus, his expectations of veal Parm were perfectly met by Drew's slab of breaded and fried veal slathered with bright red tomato sauce and blanketed with provolone cheese. In this unrevised, Americanized version of this dish, the meat was tender, the sauce was as bright in flavor as it was in color, and the chewy, faintly sharp provolone flecked with parsley was a perfect topping. If the side of spaghetti with meat sauce contributed only chewy noodles in a sweet, uninspired sauce, the main event sent Jason home happy.
Angelique indulged an appetite for breakfast at dinner, ordering "nutty pancakes," a family recipe with ripe not overripe, thank goodness bananas sliced on top. The cakes, a full plate in diameter, were evenly browned on the outside, soft and airy inside, and chock full of walnuts (Angelique's selection from options which also included almonds and pecans). Though butter was served in diner-style foil-topped packets, syrup arrived in a glass beaker.
Angelique also did not let her choice of dinner fare keep her from sampling dessert. We ordered a fudge brownie sundae to share, but when the restaurant ran out of brownie, they substituted a substantial slice of devil's food cake. Drenched in hot fudge, it made up for in decadence what it might have lacked in refinement.
And refinement, after all, is not the point of Drew's Family Restaurant. This is a family-run, locally based alternative to a chain where hungry people can spend a little and eat a lot, where picky people can dine together and find something to please everyone, and where everyone in our family, at least is satisfied.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3 stars