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World-famous Kelly O's knows down-home cooking

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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009
 

Kelly O's Diner is the best little hidden secret in town, owner Kelly O'Connor says. Yet, after being featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," the secret is getting blabbed all the way to other hemispheres.

"If (people) haven't been here, then they're missing out," she says.

O'Connor, who opened her diner eight years ago, was thrilled when Food Network host Guy Fieri featured her diner. The eatery is known for quick, inexpensive, down-home cooking, including breakfast feasts available anytime, burgers, sandwiches, homemade pies and O'Connor's specialty haluski, with cabbage, onions, noodles, bacon, garlic, salt, pepper, butter and Romano cheese. Fieri particularly was interested in that recipe, O'Connor says.

The "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" episode first aired in February and appeared again in reruns. The response from the exposure has been phenomenal, O'Connor says, with the Kelly O's Web site receiving nearly 40,000 hits this year. People from many states -- and even from more than a dozen countries, including China and Switzerland -- have visited the diner, O'Connor says. Next month, Kelly O's will be included in the second edition of the television series' accompanying book.

"We're in the economy now where you have to pick the cheaper thing to do when you're traveling," says O'Connor, 44, of Wexford. "While (people) are traveling, they're looking for the little home-cooked places.

"I've definitely put Pines Plaza back on the map," she says.

O'Connor also has appeared on KDKA's "Pittsburgh Today" show three times to do cooking demonstrations, and she plans on appearing in another episode soon.

Before its Kelly O's days, the diner -- with vintage-looking black-and-white tile, booths, tables and a counter with stools -- had a long history, including a period as a Village Dairy. Two years ago, when O'Connor was remodeling and removing asbestos, she found what was practically a time capsule in the walls behind the booths: a series of old menus, when everything cost just 10 cents, and a Pittsburgh newspaper dated Feb. 21, 1957.

O'Connor says she inherited many of the dairy's longtime customers, and her regulars have been very loyal for years.

"I've seen women carrying babies, and then I'm watching their children grow up," O'Connor says. "It's their favorite place to go. A lot of kids say, 'Take me to Kelly O's.' It's cute."

Favorite snacks and simple meals include Italian French toast ($4.99), omelettes ($5.99) and homemade soups -- including turkey pot pie, a vegetable soup with turkey and crumbled, homemade pie crust sprinkled on top. A cup is $3.99, and a bowl is $4.99.

Kelly O's features numerous sandwiches, including BLTs ($5.99), egg salad ($3.99) and grilled ham and cheese ($6.19). Burgers are $4.50, with 50 cents extra for cheese, and $1.50 to add fries. The diner's homemade pies -- cut into six hearty slices -- include apple, peach, blueberry, lemon meringue and coconut cream. A slice of fruit pie is $1.95, and a slice of cream pie is $2.95.

Charlie Francioni, a longtime employee of Kelly O's, says the restaurant has a friendly, family atmosphere and welcomes its many out-of-towners.

"That's the reason I'm coming to work every day, to see who's coming out here and why," he says.

Kelly O's Diner, 1130 Perry Highway, Pines Plaza, Ross, is open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Specials on breakfast, lunch or dinner are offered daily. Details: 412-364-0473 or www.kellyosdiner.com.

 

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