James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be the Best, It Just Needs to Be Your Favorite

Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be the Best, It Just Needs to Be Your Favorite

Fried eggs in Millvale

Sliding into a booth at P&G’s Diner, I’m overwhelmed by the smell of butter. P&G’s is an institution: a diner, pharmacy, and gift shop that anchors the town of Millvale, near where I grew up. Millvale lies across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, stretching from the river bank up a steep hill. The town is old, industrial, and a bit beaten up, but residents have plenty of local pride.

Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith opened the first Pamela’s P&G Diner in Pittsburgh in 1980. Pamela cooked, Gail ran the business, and a friend helped out. As the diner grew in popularity, they were able to hire staff and expand, eventually running six diners in the Pittsburgh area. The chain’s diehard popularity spread outside Pittsburgh as well. In 2009, the Obamas invited Pamela and Gail to make pancakes for the Memorial Day brunch at the White House. The diners each remain locally owned, either by Pam and Gail, their family members, or former wait staff.

The P&G Diner in Millvale is the least fashionable and well-known of the chain. It’s a place where brunch is still about eggs and grease rather than mimosas, where it’s ok for everyone to call everyone else “honey,” and where tables are moved as strangers become friends over plates of french toast.

At P&G Diner the food is great, the prices are low, and there are key chains, postcards, Band-Aids, and cough drops for sale. The old-timey clock above the entrance, the cozy booths, the waitresses with names like Flo, Patty, and Tammy make it feel familiar and nostalgic. It’s just another diner, but one infused with memories.

I remember sitting inside on cold weekend mornings with my family. My brother would order corned beef hash and I would mix ketchup into my potatoes to make our meals look the same. I remember when Hurricane Ivan hit Millvale in 2004 and the whole neighborhood flooded. The legend is that Pittsburgh’s underground fourth river shot a geyser up through P&G’s kitchen. Whatever the truth is, the diner was shut down for half a year. I remember the town in shambles, and then how Millvale picked itself up and rebuilt.

I order the Big Lincoln: two fried eggs, Lyonnaise potatoes, bacon, and two hotcakes. The eggs are soft with runny yolks, the bacon perfectly crispy, the potatoes cooked, diced, and then fried: a middle ground between hash browns and home fries. The hotcakes are thin and the size of your plate, with crispy edges. I like them rolled with a filling of sour cream, strawberries, and brown sugar. With bottomless coffee, it’s a decadent and filling breakfast, impossible to eat in one sitting. I’m tempted to say that it’s the best breakfast in the best place, but it isn’t. It’s just my favorite breakfast in my favorite place.

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