Location: 1185 Freedom Road, Cranberry. 724-591-5080
Hours: Sun.-Sat., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Fare: All-American breakfast and lunch
Atmosphere: Casual family restaurant
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what constitutes the archetypal diner -- neon, chrome and jukeboxes, for a start -- but actually diners come in all shapes and sizes. The only constants seem to be fried foods, breakfast all day and bottomless cups of coffee. So a place billing itself as a "modern diner" could really be anything from a hipster hangout featuring soy milkshakes and $15 meatloaf specials to a greasy spoon with an updated paint job.
Freedom Square Diner, a self-styled "modern diner" located in a brand-new strip mall in Cranberry, is best described as a muted take on the quintessential American family restaurant. Its single, large dining room is bright and airy, laid out so that almost everyone gets a booth. Instead of neon and chrome, the décor features dark wood wainscoting and a contemporary palette of brick red and navy blue. There's no counter, but most tables have a clear view into the kitchen, which comes across as something between a throwback to the short-order griddle and a nod to the open kitchens currently in vogue.
The menu is balanced evenly between breakfast (available all day, of course) and lunch; signs promise a dinner menu in March. You've got your hungry-man breakfast, country breakfast, club sandwich, chef's salad -- the offerings hit all the standard diner highlights, rounded out by a few more sophisticated options. If a tuna melt doesn't hit the spot, then may we suggest crab-cake Devonshire?
This left Angelique, who was ordering breakfast, to wrestle with not only her usual sweet/savory dilemma, but an upscale/down-home one as well. She finally found a way to satisfy all her competing cravings by ordering salmon Benedict with a pancake on the side.
Not just any pancake: a stuffed pancake. A Freedom Square specialty, these pancakes appear to be made by pouring half the batter into a platter-size round, allowing it to set up, then adding flavored chips (chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter or cinnamon) and topping with another layer of batter. The result is a traditional diner pancake in texture -- not too thick, not too fluffy, golden brown and lacy at the edges -- but so sweet-tasting as to render syrup completely superfluous. In the cinnamon version, the flavor was -- not surprisingly, in hindsight -- artificial and somewhat offputting. Chocolate chips, a more traditional pancake filling, might have been a safer bet. (These treats are also presented gratis to students bearing report cards with As.)
Salmon Benedict featured a healthy portion of rosy grilled salmon topping a lightly toasted English muffin and bearing two perfectly poached eggs. Hollandaise sauce united these ingredients with its rich creaminess. Angelique thought she detected a hint of something (mustard?) with just enough zing to raise the sauce above blandness while still keeping it mild. Hash browns on the side were delicious, extra-crispy outside and fluffy within.
Waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon were all serviceable if unremarkable. Jason bypassed breakfast to order lunch, and thought the bacon cheeseburger deserved particular note for its satisfying size, neither jaw-stretchingly big nor fast-food thin. It was juicy without being messy, too, and the toasted bun -- Jason's favorite aspect of diner burgers -- was, like the patty itself, just a bit more substantial than average. The fries, somewhere between shoestring and pub-cut, worked the same good crispy-fluffy contrast as the hash browns, while the big, battered onion rings were perhaps a bit doughy.
In the suburban wilds of Cranberry, Freedom Square Diner offers a satisfying alternative to national chains, with friendly service, pleasant surroundings and, most importantly, good food in the venerable diner tradition.