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There's more than pizza to love at Phillippi's Family Dining in Natrona Heights

| Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Anthony Phillippi, a chef at Phillippi's Family Dining & Pizzeria, takes a Birdville Pie out of the oven at the Natrona Height restaurant on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
Anthony Phillippi, a chef at Phillippi's Family Dining & Pizzeria, takes a Birdville Pie out of the oven at the Natrona Height restaurant on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.
Ashley Phillippi, left, a waitress at Phillippi's Family Dining and Pizzeria, and her mother, owner Kim, show the breaded Chicken Wings and Brunch Burger at the Natrona Heights Restaurant on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
Ashley Phillippi, left, a waitress at Phillippi's Family Dining and Pizzeria, and her mother, owner Kim, show the breaded Chicken Wings and Brunch Burger at the Natrona Heights Restaurant on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.

For a restaurant serving pizza with a cult-like following, we thought there would be no surprises.

But, wow, were we ever surprised.

If you try only the amazing, throwback P&M pizza at Phillippi's Family Dining in Natrona Heights, Harrison, you're missing out on a wonderful food experience.

After buying P&M Pizza in Arnold in 1994 with other family members, Mark and Kim Phillippi decided five years later to open their own expanded restaurant in Harrison.

“We wanted to serve more than pizza, and this kitchen and building afforded us that opportunity, including a breakfast,” she says. Business, as well as the menu, has tripled over the past decade and a half.

Having purchased the exact P&M recipe from former owners Lefty and Mooney Martz, the Phillippis created their Birdville Pie, in honor of the Birdville section of Harrison where Phillippi's is located.

“We trained with the Martzes for six months to learn and perfect the recipe and are the only restaurant in the world to have it,” Kim Phillippi says. “Others may attempt to imitate it, but they can't authentically duplicate it.”

Phillippi's serves about 700 Birdville pizzas per week.

Set up on Freeport Road, near Heights Plaza, Phillippi's features booths and tables that seat 50 in the dining room. Vintage black-and-white photos from around Harrison grace one wall, and Pittsburgh sports memorabilia adorn the other. Even with a full dining room, conversations can take place easily. Decorated simply, the interior has a homey feel. The staff takes great pride in a clean dining room, and it shows. An outside patio seats 24 and has a megasize TV for entertainment.

We started our dining with a Birdville Pie with pepperoni ($11.99). The thin-crusted, “stick to the roof of your mouth” blend of cheeses was phenomenal.

“This takes me back to the first time I ever visited the old P&M in Arnold,” one diner said. “If I close my eyes, I can envision Mooney sitting on his stool with the JFK tapestry in the background.” This pizza truly is the real P&M recipe, almost 70 years old.

We tried the breaded chicken wings ($14.99 per dozen) and were thrilled. The fresh, not frozen, wings were meaty and substantial, with thick and crunchy breading. One guest suggested, “they must have a chicken coop out back ... to get them this fresh.”

With about 3,000 wings served per week, Phillippi's wings sauces are all housemade.

To expand our food horizons, the Brunch Burger ($8.49) was a wise choice. This half-pound monster, called a “breakfast on a bun” by one diner in our group, was juicy, fresh-ground chuck and had a cooked-charcoal taste. With smoked-slab bacon and a fried egg on a sesame-seed bun, this offering also came with housemade nacho chips.

For an entree, we chose the penne pasta with meat sauce ($7.99), served with a side salad and garlic pizza sticks. The menu proclaimed this generous portion of perfectly cooked pasta was covered with “Grandma Julie's homemade Italian meat sauce.” The sweet sauce created a debate among our diners — half loved it, half wished for a tarter taste.

The grilled chicken salad ($9.99) was a huge offering of grilled-seasoned chicken breast, fresh-cut leaf lettuce, mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, french fries and shredded cheese. We chose the homemade parmesan peppercorn dressing and loved it. It was a nice combination of healthy and filling.

The final choice was the cheesesteak hoagie ($7.98 for a small), including homemade coleslaw and plentiful coated fries. The shaved, seasoned, tender sirloin melted in the mouth and combined with the hot cheddar cheese on a chewy bun to deliver a meal of excellence.

We were impressed with how the kitchen combines with the staff for a well-paced meal.

Kim Phillippi says, “We take pride in our food with hand-breaded appetizers, hand-formed burgers, homemade salad dressings and wing sauces. This not just a business, it is a labor of love.”

And, judging from the diners smiles, that love is returned.

Eric Felack is a staff photographer for Trib Total Media.

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