Munch Goes to Hanlon's Cafe

In the wise words of Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And in the wise words of Munch, sometimes a diner is just a diner.

Hanlon's Cafe, which opened recently on Liberty Avenue Downtown, is just a diner. Not a cutesy retro diner. Not a fancy hamburger place. Just a diner.

And a good one.

Owner Bob Hanlon started the restaurant 15 years ago after losing part of his arm in an accident as an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter. He opened his restaurant across the street from Mercy Hospital, where he'd spent a month recuperating from his injuries.

All was well -- not just with the restaurant but also with a catering business -- until Mr. Hanlon was evicted from the building by new owner UPMC, which wanted to tear it down. After a yearlong court battle, he decided to take a settlement and start over Downtown.

Walking into the new Hanlon's Cafe, the untrained observer would guess it has been there for a matter of decades -- not weeks. The glossy red booths and lunch counter look warm and homey, and the place already has a stock of regulars.

And as Munch was particularly pleased to learn, breakfast is served all day. Munch immediately ordered something better fit for a trucker: Two eggs AND bacon AND French toast AND home fries, all for just under $5. Munch ate every scrap and didn't have a complaint about any of it. The bacon was well cooked but not burnt, the French toast soft and nearly gooey in the center, the home fries well spiced.

Diner Loving Colleague of Munch and Frequent Lunch Partner of Munch were equally happy ordering off the giant lunch menu. DLCOM was pleased as punch with his grilled ham and cheese ($5.99), pronouncing it "pretty much perfect" with a crunchy exterior and a "molten lava of pork and cheese inside." FLPOM was thoroughly satisfied with her perfectly proportioned Reuben ($5.99) -- not to mention the sweet serendipity of discovering the combination of sweet potato fries and Thousand Island dressing.

Whether it was because of Munch's good looks and sparkling personality, because our waitress just happened to know FLPOM, or because Hanlon's Cafe was feeling particularly generous that day, the party of Munch not only received excellent service, but was treated to a few free samples.

A plate of potato chips made in-house, paper thin and perfectly salted, appeared as Munch was perusing the gigantic menu. After the meal, the table was offered a sample of chocolate milkshakes with whipped cream. "I would pay a dollar for this," said FLPOM of the water-cooler cup sized portions.

Hanlon's Cafe also offers a spiffed up drink menu, from old-fashioned milkshakes ($3.39) to fruit tea smoothies ($3.59) to coffee chillers ($3.59). In addition to sandwiches of all shapes and sizes, the lunch menu offers everything from burgers to pasta to salads.

It ain't glamorous, folks, but it sure is tasty. And sometimes, there isn't a thing wrong with that.


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