CHEAP EATS: Trying an old favorite for the first time
For a 70-year-old establishment with an entrenched customer base, a lot has changed at Reliance Café in the past year.
A large deck seating 30 now flanks the cozy dining room. A slick-looking bar area with plasma televisions serves several martini varieties and microbrews.
The more upscale new interior décor strikes an interesting contrast with the hominess of the menu.
Many of these changes stem from the new partnership between K.J. Sgagias and his father, longtime owner Jim Sgagias. Literally and figuratively, it is not your father's diner.
"I want to get away from that old diner mentality," said K.J., who has focused his efforts on the front of the house. "I wanted it to be more of a restaurant-café."
What hasn't changed? The made-from-scratch, homestyle food. Jim has made many of the time-tested recipes the same since he bought the restaurant in the early '70s, and I see no reason to change them now.
My meal started with a cup of chicken corn soup ($1.75). I've heard all about this Pennsylvania Dutch classic but never tried it. The Reliance features wide, homemade noodles, as opposed to some versions with pieces of hard boiled egg. He also uses some cream corn, which seems to add a hint of smooth buttery flavor.
For the main course, I ordered macaroni and cheese, topped with hearty chunks of baked ham. Generally, I enjoy mac 'n cheese with a crunchy, light brown top layer. This had a more liquid consistency, but I loved it. The cheese sauce was a smooth blend of cheddar, Swiss and American. The salty ham served a dual purpose, seasoning the dish and adding its own semi-sweet flavor.
The meal included two sides. The green beans - overcooked for my tastes - underwhelmed me. But the cole slaw - again, homemade - blended creaminess with crunchiness for the perfect texture, and I tasted an ideal ratio of vinegar to sugar.
Here's the bottom line with the Reliance: I haven't eaten so much delicious, homemade food at a restaurant for less than $9 in a long time. That's saying something considering the title of this column.
"We have generations of customers here," Jim said. "People say my dad was a customer here, my grandfather was a customer."
And yet, it surprised me to find the we've never reviewed The Reliance, according to our archives. It proves you can never run out of new places to try - even if that "new" place is a 70-year-old institution.
Cheap Eats is a biweekly column on local restaurants' meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Wade Malcolm at 771-2101 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
LOCATION: Reliance Cafe, 1413 W. Market St. in West York
WADE'S PICK: macaroni and cheese ($5.95), cup of chicken corn soup ($1.75)
PARKING: lot and onstreet
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
PRICE RANGE: $4.95 to $15.95
ALCOHOL: full bar
SMOKING: on outside deck
ACCEPTS: Cash and major credit card
KID'S MENU: hot dog, spaghetti, chicken strips, cheeseburger, grilled cheese, haddock sandwich (all $3.50).
DETAILS: 854-1871, www.reliancecafe.com