Nearly 40 years ago George Warren and Gary Meszaros renovated an old gas station in Sharon, Penna. into a restaurant. In keeping with its heritage, they applied a décor that could only be described as “hot rod” – primarily antique cars and license plates. This filling station-come-eatery became the first Quaker Steak and Lube.
Today there are 45 locations, one of which opened in Johnstown, Penna. in late 2012. The original 1974 restaurant featured a Seinfeld-esque “cook-your-own steak” option. But modern incarnations like Cambria County’s venue are must stops on the wing fanatic tour. Some have been featured on the Food Network.
The Johnstown Quaker Steak is easily accessible with plenty of lot parking at the former site of Blockbuster Video on Scalp Avenue. There is a multitude of grills, fenders, bikes, pumps, and all nature of automobilia on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and adorning every crevice. It leaves the 5,300 square foot bar and dining area feeling a bit cramped compared to its brethren.
Like other trendy chains, Quaker Steak draws its crowd more from the themed atmosphere than outstanding food quality or value. Families with kids love the raucous noise level and general sensory overload. Twenty-somethings like the idea that it isn’t where they ate Sunday dinner with the family after services while growing up. Wing lovers are obligated to check it off the list.
As you enter the staging lanes in Johnstown, expect to find several hostesses lounging at the tree. The stands are filled and the shouts of fans carry from bar to pits. When you eventually get the green light, you are tucked into a tight cockpit. Your waitress will be friendly and helpful, plunking down in the passenger seat to explain a crammed menu over the din. Enjoy that face time because she’ll be so busy that you won’t see much of her later.
The menu has some really interesting tavern-type items, with an amazing number of automobile references in the titles, and some tasty twists in the recipes. For example, under the heading of “Bowl Bearings” (Get it? Ball bearings.) you’ll find the Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese feature, and it is spicy delicious. Wings are good, not great – average sized and properly cooked. They feature their own line of over 21 different sauces (lubes), categorized by heat from mild to insane. The entire food menu is available for take-out, and favorite sauces may be purchased by the bottle.
In addition to low-octane drinks, the menu includes an inventive line of Bar Jars, Torqued up Teas, Lube-A-Ritas, premium liquors, bottled beer, drafts, and wine. Prices are a bit on the high end, but drinks are served up attractively. This is where you go to try out a fun new rum concoction with a catchy name or a glass of beer with shaved chocolate on the rim. Probably not a bar where you nurse a domestic light bottle all night.
However, entertainment isn’t limited to cute wait staff and museum finds. They mix it up with Friday night DJs and karaoke on Saturdays. There are national sports events on the big screen televisions, bike nights, family fun nights, cruise-ins, and the aptly titled “Sunday S.I.N.” with half off drink prices.
Ray Joll, franchise operator, has a lot of potential under this hood and little competition for the niche. Food and bar services in this area are primarily family run, one-off establishments. A younger crowd seems to be screaming for more national chain options. But a look at online reviews shows growing pains and definite room for improvement in customer service and food quality.
Try them out and comment here about your personal experience. You’ll find a calendar of events and full menu at http://www.quakersteakandlube.com/Johnstown_PA. Stay current with daily specials on www.facebook.com/pages/Quaker-Steak-Lube-Johnstown-PA/505748149441957?fref=ts .