It doesn’t take much more than a giant fiberglass statue in front of a business to pique my retro roadinterest, so when I learned that there was a muffler man cowboy named Sam in front of the Cadet Restaurant in Kittanning PA, Retro Roadhusband and I made a delicious detour to check it out.
In business since 1952 (and originally called The Owl’s Nest, according to the Cadet Restaurant website), the Cadet was the first drive-in restaurant in the tri-state area. While they no longer offer car hop service, they do host classic car cruise nights in the warm weather months. That must be a sight, seeing the vintage cars under the carport canopies!
Speaking of sights, it’s near impossible to miss Sam as he rises 30 feet in the air. Purchased in 1962 he began guarding the restaurant in 1968 (According to the book Roadside Giants by Brian & Sarah Butko).
In an unfortunate 1990 accident he was knocked to the ground by an out of control vehicle on Route 422. You can see in the photo below how this could happen, as the current road is “thisclose” to the Cadet. For 12 years Sam lay in a state of disrepair (collecting workman’s comp, I hope) until he was fixed and put back in his rightful place in 2002.
As a “wonderful how all things connect on the internet” aside, Retro Roadpal and fellow roadblogger WendyVee of RoadsideWonders.net has fond memories of seeing Sam en route to her grandmom’s house, and notes that at one point the restaurant was called the Kadet. She also shared in her report on the Cadet (Kadet) that he’s actually been immortalized in a Zippy The Pinhead comic strip!
In my book, Sam would be enough to draw your attention to this place for a quick snapshot, but I’m happy to report that once we ventured into the restaurant we had a fine meal – and dessert- at The Cadet.
Walking in I immediately loved the incongruous combination of daintily pattered Formica on our table, fabulous 1970s futuristic light fixtures, paisley vinyl seats and checkered tile floor. (Also somewhat incongruous was the table with assorted items for sale near the entryway- but hey, you’d never see that in a chain!)
The Cadet has been owned by the same owner the entire time, but alas we didn’t get to meet him during our short visit. According to the website, owner George Morda “grinds his own meat for his Poorboy’s and sausage, the onion rings, mushrooms and fish are breaded fresh daily.”
The Poor Boy they refer to is not your New Orleans Po’Boy, however. This Western PA version is a double decker burger with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Retro Roadhusband was kind enough to order that for research purposes, as I had my eye on chicken and biscuits with gravy.
Our food was good, hot and filling, but what I can’t stop thinking about even now is the pies!
Where we sat in our booth I had a perfect view of the pie case and could not help but notice the one I was planning on ordering was getting smaller and smaller one slice at a time. I knew I’d be peeved if I didn’t get a piece of what looked like a delicious home made custard pie, so when there was just one slice left, I scarfed down the rest of my chicken and called the waitress over to make sure I got that last slice. BOY was it worth it!
The pies are made from scratch daily and you could totally tell. The crust was homemade graham cracker crust, not your standard pre-formed store bought crust. The filling was light and sweet, covered with a soft meringue that had been heated on top just enough to brown the graham crumbles and give it a toasted marshmallow taste.
Seriously, I’m thinking we need to head to The Cadet soon, to say hi to Sam and get some more pie!
13514 US Route 422
Kittanning, PA 16201
Open 7 days a week from 9:00 AM till 8:00 PM.
(FYI They stop serving at 7:30 PM.)
See ALL the cool old vintage places in Pennsylvania on the
PA – Pennsylvania Retro RoadMAP