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Café Retro serves hearty and classic comfort foods

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:04 p.m.
Kathy Hartman, cook at the Cafe Retro in Allentown shows off the eatery's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Cafe Retro in Allentown's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Cafe Retro in Allentown's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A chalk sign proclaims the Cafe Retro's Cheesesteak Omlette the special of the day September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The ingredients for the the Cafe Retro's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kathy Hartman, cook at the Cafe Retro in Allentown prepares the cheesesteak portion of the eatery's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kathy Hartman, cook at the Cafe Retro in Allentown tears the slices of provelone into the eatery's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kathy Hartman, cook at the Cafe Retro in Allentown finishes off the eatery's Cheesesteak Omlette on the gridle September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Kathy Hartman, cook at the Cafe Retro in Allentown separates the egg from the side of the pan while preparing the eatery's Cheesesteak Omlette September 20, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Real-estate developer Ray Meyers says the Allentown neighborhood “always needed a nice restaurant,” so he decided to open one.

“I saw it as sort of an extension of myself,” says Meyers of the South Side, who enjoys old films and the bright colors of Miami décor.

The result is Café Retro, which opened in June on East Warrington Avenue. The cafe serves American diner favorites like hearty breakfasts and meat loaf and fried chicken for dinner, whipped up by cooks like Kathy Hartman of Carrick.

“I come from a Polish family,” says Hartman, 50, a Mt. Oliver native. “Both my grandmas were excellent cooks, and so was my mom.”

Hartman seems to have inherited the cooking gene. Having started as a substitute cook and waitress when Café Retro opened, she became the cook in August.

Entrees are not expensive at the diner, which offers the Atomic Steak Hoagie for $5.99 and the Retro Burger for $3.99 with fries. Breakfasts, which are available all day, are named for Earth, Venus, Mars and Jupiter and are $3.99 or $4.99. Three waffles, three pancakes or three slices of French toast each cost $2.49.

Café Retro features colorful-checked tablecloths and sunny-yellow walls adorned with posters, mostly of old movies. They include movie posters of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet,” which reaffirm the underlying space-age theme, and posters of mid-century icons Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

Meyers sometimes pitches in to help on weekends, or if there's a rush of customers during the week.

The diner started out as a breakfast and lunch spot, but lengthened its hours in October. That change gives Hartman the opportunity to offer more dinner-style entrees, such as her “secret-recipe” fried chicken.

“It's not greasy; it comes out perfect,” she says. “The seasoning seems to go through the whole chicken.”

“That chicken is so fantastic,” Meyers says. “I couldn't believe it. It was real mouth-watering.”

Diners can order the chicken as a dinner or a nine-piece chicken takeout for $11.99.

All dinners run $6.99, and feature meat, potatoes and a vegetable — the kind of hearty meals diners are famous for.

Now that the weather has cooled, Café Retro offers a different homemade soup each week.

“We are reasonable,” Meyers says. “It's not exactly a boom economy.”

The diner has seats for 36; an adjacent party room available for private parties seats another 50 people.

“The whole thing is providing a place with a nice atmosphere and good food,” Meyers says.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Retro Cheesesteak Omelet

Café Retro cook Kathy Hartman has three sons who love cheesesteaks, and “are always cooking eggs.” Also the grandmother of one, Hartman came up with this unusual take on the omelet after putting her sons' culinary preferences together.

The result is a tasty combination of flavors that makes a savory, hearty meal.

Nonstick cooking spray

¼ cup sweet red bell and sweet green bell peppers and onions

3 large eggs

1 shaved steak (like a Steak-Um)

1 slice provolone cheese

Combination of salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion salt and garlic salt, to taste

Toast, for serving

Coat a nonstick omelet pan or skillet and a grill or second skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place the peppers and onions on the grill to cook.

Scramble the eggs in a bowl.

Place the thin steak on the grill to brown. Season the steak with the spices. As the vegetables and steak grill, cut into pieces using a pancake turner or spatula (Photo 1).

Place the scrambled-egg mixture in the omelet pan. Mix the steak and vegetable pieces together and place on top of the scrambled-egg mixtur e. Break up the slice of provolone and place over the egg mixture (Photo 2).

As the omelet cooks, use a spatula to gently ease the cooked edges into the center of the omelet (Photo 3).

After the bottom sets, up-end the omelet onto the griddle or second skillet and let it cook as a circular omelet. When the omelet is cooked, flip one half of the omelet over the other (Photo 4). Turn onto a plate. Serve with toast.

Makes 1 serving.

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