Micro Diner | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Micro Diner

This Mount Washington breakfast-lunch-and-late-night stop has some hits and misses

Breakfast, with eggs over easy
Breakfast, with eggs over easy

Micronesia is an archipelago of tiny islands. Microtel is a hotel full of bargain-size rooms. And Micro Diner is a tiny place to get lunch, dinner or breakfast during many hours on Mount Washington.

Although it shares altitude with Grandview Avenue's splendid restaurant row, Micro Diner is located on much more down-to-earth Shiloh Street among the banks, dry cleaners and bars that cater to the neighborhood's residents. It's bright and cheerful, with yolk-yellow walls and, true to its proclamation as a diner, a counter facing the grills and griddles at the establishment's heart. A few tables provide the rest of the seating. 

But the size of the space is the only diminutive thing about Micro Diner — except, significantly, for the prices: Nothing is over $10. True to diner tradition, portions are ample and the menu covers all the classic diner categories: eggs, pancakes, French toast, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads and entrees from old-school standards like liver and onions to contemporary standbys like grilled tilapia.

Our kids love to eat breakfast for dinner and split an order of French toast. Six triangles of toasted, egg-dipped white bread — which the French themselves call pain perdu, or lost bread — looked promising, pale areas mingling with toasty brown ones. But what was really lost was crispness, even at the edges of the crusts. 

Moving from sweet to savory, we ordered an appetizer of fried zucchini. Thick matchsticks of zucchini — apparently fresh, not frozen, judging by their intact dark green skins — made a more substantial presentation than the more usual slices or wedges. Unfortunately, the coating, which was flecked with herbs and bread crumbs, was a bit too heavy in both texture and taste for the tender squash. A marinara dipping sauce was oddly pale and chunky, more like a mild salsa than anything you'd find with pasta.

The same breading, and consequent issues, recurred on a fried chicken-breast sandwich. Actually, the issue with the sandwich was more fundamental. The full-size breast of a whole chicken — two halves — not only dwarfed its rather large sesame-seed bun, but it was also far too thick at one end to cook through before the thin end had become overdone. In the best bites we could taste what could have been: moist white meat seasoned by the crisp coating, herbs stepping forth to add flavor. But forget biting through cleanly with your teeth; the overcooked tips exceeded even the abilities of a fork and knife.

Truthfully, everything that came out of the fryer was overdone. The fries were dark brown, and while quite a few of them had that great, caramelized potato flavor with crunchy and fluffy parts, most simply tasted like overcooked potatoes, requiring plenty of ketchup — or gravy — to tone down the effect.

Ah, the gravy. When Jason received mashed potatoes topped with homemade chicken gravy, he was nearly ready to forgive all previous transgressions. Flecked with shreds of chicken, the thick, but not pasty, gravy didn't just surpass typical diner fare; it would credit a roast chicken at any but the finest of restaurants. It was savory and flavorful, upgrading the slightly lumpy mashed potatoes and salvaging the deep brown fries, all without drawing too much attention to itself or wearying the palate.

Which made the chicken pot pie all the more disappointing. Inexplicably, the sauce in the pie wasn't that same gravy — at least, not recognizably — but blander, with a hard-to-explain, less-than-smooth texture. There were plenty of vegetables, something of a treat at a diner, where non-potato plant matter is usually scarce. But the blend of carrots, broccoli and lots of corn was peculiar, and the proportions suggested leftovers rather than careful selection. The crust was flaky enough and crisp at the edges, but inadequate to promote this flawed pie to favor.

Angelique eats burgers only a few times a year, and Micro Diner's "Spicy Bleu and Bacon" burger enticed her to make this one of those times. She's a fool for spicy, tangy buffalo sauce, and the promise of that, mingled with bleu cheese and bacon, was what reeled her in. So it was perplexing when, at first, her burger was delivered with American cheese and a half-hearted offer to take that off, if she wanted. Yes, please. When the burger was returned, the processed cheese had been scraped away, but also missing was any detectable buffalo sauce. Still, the beef patty was better than we'd expect at most restaurants that don't specialize in burgers, and the bleu cheese dressing was good and chunky.

At Micro Diner, we found glimmers of greatness among preparations that, with a little more care, could secure this restaurant's reputation as tiny, but mighty.