Signature dishes: the “secret” marinade makes Colonial Grille pressure-fried chicken tasty

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting signature dishes at local restaurants in the area. Check out Trib Total Media’s new online restaurant directory, Dine Local, at

Gary Santimyer, owner of the famous Colonial Grille in Irwin, has a secret about his restaurant’s pressure-fried chicken that he’s been clinging to for years – and he’s not going to let go.

Only Santimyer and his cooks know the marinade ingredients that make the restaurant’s signature dish, pressure fried chicken, so tasty. You can call it a Colonial Grille trade secret.

“We’re really known for our pressure fried chicken,” Santimyer said. “People come from miles around for this.”

Santimyer is ready to reveal one aspect of the signature dish.

“You have to start with good chicken,” he says with a smile.

The good, fresh chicken it starts with is marinated for at least 24 hours. Forty-eight hours in the marinade makes it even better, Santimyer said. (In 72 hours, everything was gone, cooked for the customers.)

Once marinated, the chicken is breaded and placed in Broaster Co. pressure fryers for about 13 minutes, which is faster than other fryers, Santimyer said. The pressure fryers that Santimyer uses in the kitchen keep foods softer and absorb less oil during the cooking process, according to Broaster Co.

The chicken dinner, consisting of one breast and one thigh, marinated and cooked in Colonial Grille’s “special breading”, along with two side dishes, costs $ 13.69.

Father started business

Santimyer is the second generation owner of the Irwin Town Center Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Her father, Len, had worked at Isaly’s restaurant in Irwin before purchasing what was then a bankrupt Colonial Grille restaurant in 1961.

“It’s our (60th) anniversary, but we haven’t had time to throw a celebration,” Santimyer said.

Business was cut short in the early 1970s when a fire damaged the restaurant. Len Santimyer moved the business to an area in North Huntingdon, across the railroad from Irwin, and turned to the restaurant business. He decided to rebuild the restaurant and start serving customers on Main Street again.

They bought a hardware store in the building adjoining the restaurant on Main Street and opened up access to the structure for additional seating. A dozen years ago, Santimyer created a taproom at the back of the old hardware store.

Len Santimyer retired in 1996, but maintained a restaurant presence until his death in 2012.

Business has been better than before the covid restrictions, Santimyer said. This has only gotten better since the state lifted restrictions on indoor dining, which coincided with more people taking the covid vaccine and the lower transmission rate of the coronavirus. .

Santimyer said he believes one of the reasons the restaurant has performed well is that the staff have remained loyal and continued to work during the pandemic, which caused disruption in the restaurant industry.

“We were able to keep all of our key employees at work. So many restaurants can’t get help (workers), ”Santimyer said.

The Colonial Grille (333 Main St., Irwin) is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday (last seat at 1:30 p.m.). Call 724-863-8358 or go to

Joe Napsha is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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