Hot Metal Diner is not for the faint of stomach

| Friday, Oct. 8, 2010

It's just after 7 a.m. on a Saturday at the Hot Metal Diner in West Mifflin. There's rock music blaring from the sound system, providing a non-caffeinated boost to the bottomless cups of coffee customers are drinking. Waitress and manager Stephanie Schofield is breezing around the diner like a blonde whippet, chatting with familiar faces, greeting one new patron breezily, but with a smile.

"Time's up," Schofield says when the customer dawdles over a menu.

"I try to start friendships with customers," she says. "But with some of them, I'm more or less sarcastic."

That's one of the reasons the Hot Metal Diner is unlike any other dining establishment in the area. You can point to the bright red-and-black decor, the vintage signs, the retro counter with bar stools, the motorcycle memorabilia (the Hot Metal Harley-Davidson is right across the street, and many motorcyclists looking for hearty breakfasts are regulars) but there's also a sense that anyone from any walk of life is welcome.

"We try to make you feel like you're at home and you don't have to cook," says owner Wendy Betten. "We just do it better than anyone else."

Betten is a veteran of the restaurant industry, but when asked about her background, she gives you the whole story: ran away from home at 14, started waiting tables, enlisted in the Army, got out of the Army, went back to waiting tables, got married, waited more tables, bought a restaurant, sold it and retired.

Except the retirement didn't take.

"I hated being retired," Betten says. "I went on a mission, found an architect. And I've been on a mission since the day we opened."

If making customers feel like they are at home is the Hot Metal Diner's mission, the philosophy concerning food is "size really matters." The portions are of lumberjack proportions, which often is a warning sign that the quality of the food is lacking. But not so at the Hot Metal Diner.

The Hot Metal Mixed Grill ($5.99) is a blend of perfectly seasoned eggs, sauteed green peppers and onions, served with a side of Italian toast (Mancini's bread only).

Other selections are served with dollops of wit: Buttermilk Mancakes ($7.39) feature two gigantic (think hubcap-sized) pancakes; the Port Authority Protein Punch ($6.29) consists of three eggs, and a choice of bacon, ham or sausage; Bob's Fatboy Samich ($5.59) is two scrambled eggs and cheese, with either ham, bacon or sausage on grilled Italian toast.

Health-conscious• We're not sure how healthy a five-egg-white omelet with tomatoes, peppers and onions is, but the Health Nuts Special is only $6.09.

There's also an extensive lunch menu, featuring a variety sandwiches, soups and salads. By name alone, our favorite is the Big Ass Fish Sandwich ($9.25), which is "caught fresh out back," and comes with coleslaw, potato chips and a pickle.

Additional Information:

Hot Metal Diner

Location: 1025 Lebanon Road, West Mifflin

Hours: 6 a.m to 3 p.m daily

Details: 412-460-4900 or website

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