Update: Following a fire in 2012, The Hillside Cafe is set to reopen in mid-December 2014. Expect the same enjoyable menu and daily specials. For details, call the restaurant at 717-938-6300.
Vicky Sgagias, 28, remembers walking into The Hillside Café for the first time when her parents, George and Loula, bought the Fairview Township business in 1987.
She said the Hillside was more of a bar and truck stop then. But her dad liked that it was family owned - since 1952.
I've passed a sign for the café while driving north on Interstate 83 countless times, but I never stopped to check it out. I wasn't sure what to expect upon entering the blue wooden building for a recent late lunch.
The dimly lit dining room had a warm, rustic vibe. A Frank Sinatra song played quietly, and a hostess seated me in a maroon booth next to a window with closed wooden blinds. I took note of the nutcrackers and garland still lining the walls a few days after New Year's and decided that it still worked.
I ordered the mesquite chicken sandwich and asked to substitute a side Caesar salad for the fries, which wasn't a problem. The crispy romaine lettuce was topped with thick, garlic croutons and Romano cheese.
My server brought the sandwich soon after, and suggested that I try the barbecue sauce that was served on the side.
"It's really good," he said, adding that he had some earlier that day.
He was right. The light-orange sauce had a sweet tang to it and complemented the chicken well.
It was an enjoyable and relaxing lunch after the holiday rush. Customers trickled in and out, during a pre-dinner lull.
"I hear a steak coming," one man said as his server brought out his meal.
He seemed like he had been there before.
Vicky Sgagias said once customers try the food, they always come back.
She said all of the food is cooked from scratch - five soups every day, hand-breaded seafood, fresh-cut steaks and her mom's famous peanut butter pie.
Sgagias said her parents work all of the time, starting their day at 11 a.m. They make it a point to sell high-quality food, and her dad never lets a customer leave unhappy.
"My dad, he walks into a room, and he just takes control of it," she said. "He knows how to deal with people."
Sgagias said George completely re-did the business when he took it over and that he's constantly making small improvements without losing its homey touch.
"He did want to keep that kind of look that everyone's familiar with - that kind of nostalgic look - and keep the restaurant true to its core," she said. "It's a good blend between Old World and New World. It's cozy."
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If you go
LOCATION: The Hillside Café, 589 Salem Road in Fairview Township
CUISINE: Steak and seafood
LEIGH'S PICK: Mesquite chicken sandwich with a side Caesar salad ($5.95)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Saturday
PRICE RANGE: $1 to $47.95
ACCEPTS: Cash and credit cards
KID'S MENU: Yes
DETAILS: Call 717-938-6300 or visit www.hillsidecafe.net