Best Breakfast: Pamela's Restaurant | Feature Extras | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Best Breakfast: Pamela's Restaurant 

On the surface, the Shadyside location of Pamela's Restaurant seems a nice fit with the modern 'Burgh aesthetic of chain boutiques and gourmet novelty that dominates Walnut Street. But, as the bacon and homefries will tastily attest, Pamela's is still a meat 'n' potatoes kind of place. And while it may be lite-rock fare in the dining area, it is Merle Haggard and Guns n' Roses that heats the kitchen.

Pamela's is a throwback to the neighborhood diner days of yore, a family place with snazzy utensil paintings and nouveaux-deco checkerboard flooring that makes spilled syrup and coffee look like pop art. Its oft-crowded atrium is about the size of a dressing room in one of the clothiers down the street. Simple paper menus unfold a variety of breakfast combinations, salads, sandwiches and side orders that should sate any daylight hunger.

A diverse menu draws a social sundry of clientele. "We get lawyers, we get students, we get out-of-towners," says longtime waiter Keith Smith. Most people come for the legendary pancakes (thin, porous flapjacks from heaven) and leave with hefty leftovers in their grasp.

On weekends, Pamela's can't fill all the grumbling tummies before more arrive to fill the ranks, which often spill out onto Walnut Street. "Most people know it's worth the wait, but we still get gripers. As soon as they're seated, though, they're happy," says Smith. Without the aid of a sturdy rolling pin, hostesses handle the high volume of hunger like patient air-traffic controllers, making sure all's clear for landing customers in their seats.

Unadorned ambience and honest prices manage to attract a hungry swarm regardless of the occasion or occasional maelstrom. In fact, the crowd only thins out near closing time and kickoff. All hours of the day, people are calmly reading the paper, shooting the bull with employees, or listening to bizarre, old-man mix-tapes on stadium headphones. These people are called regulars, and they love Pamela's because it's like their living room, only with good food and endless coffee refills.

In Smith's 11 years at Pamela's, he's seen the block go from independent specialty shops to a pricey runway where fashion plates trot. But the credit-rich must check their plastic at the door, because Pamela's is a do-the-math-for-yourself, cash-at-the-counter type of joint.

During the time that it takes for Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" to play overhead, you can order and stomach a Belgian waffle and some onion rings. Part of the reason most employees have worked there for years is Pam herself, the commander-in-chief who nurtures a family spirit by rolling up her sleeves to help bus tables.

Now with five locations and hundreds of devotees, Pamela's has firmly rooted its family tree in a city soil rich with eatery allegiance. Employees' baby pictures and ancient customer photos are on display amidst pink Airstream décor at the newest location, in the Strip District. Patrons old and new can chart the restaurant's local genealogy while devouring a breakfast homage to simpler times.

Smith affirms this skillet-fed kinship as his motivation for ministering to the needs of hungry yinzers every day. "It's the people you work with that help the day fly by," he says.

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