The Echo has long been a landmark in Hyde Park, around the corner from the square. In fact, it's been in the same location since 1945. The uniformed waitresses with name tags and big hair disappeared several years ago, but the cozy, familiar atmosphere remains.
We'd planned to meet at The Echo at 7 p.m. on a recent weeknight. Dodging joggers and walkers as I crossed the street, it was obvious that everyone within a few miles felt the need to be outside frisking in the spring weather. The salmon building with the green awning seemed a bright spot on the block, somewhat of a beacon for dinner patrons of all shapes, ages and sizes.
The front-room booths were occupied in both the smoking section and the small non-smoking section. Some of the counter places were available, but we were encouraged to take a booth in the side room. Only a few booths were taken there, but we were soon joined by several other couples and families.
The dining rooms are sherbet shades of pink and yellow with green vinyl benches with walnut trim.
An odd-mix of photographs and prints lends to the eclectic, comfortable feel.
Service is spotty, but efficient. Although it took some time before we saw our waitress, she then whisked around the room delivering menus and water, food and drinks simultaneously. She seemed to be able to cover six tables at once. We were in and out in less than an hour, along with most of the tables in our section.
Like many home-cooking restaurants, breakfast is served throughout the day and includes a variety of omelets, eggs, cereal and griddled carbohydrates — French toast, waffles and pancakes. I couldn't resist ordering a stack of three Blueberry Buttermilk Hotcakes ($3.95) and a side of Canadian Bacon ($2.65). For some reason, the kitchen chose to send out one five-inch hotcake with the bacon; the other two cakes arrived several minutes later. The cakes were thick, moist and chunky with berries. While the syrup was warmed in the plastic cup, it contributed virtually no flavor to the breakfast treat. The Canadian Bacon was lightly grilled with a salty, satisfying, lightly smoked taste. We also sampled Grits with cheese ($.95). The grated cheddar cheese on top of the white-hulled corn was not familiar to my Virginia background, and needed a bit of spice to lift it from the nondescript.
In classic fashion, there were evening specials in addition to the regular menu. Options ranged from Chicken Croquettes ($6.95) to a Stuffed Pork Chop ($6.95) and Orange Roughy ($7.95). My partner chose Meat Loaf with Gravy ($6.05) from the dinner menu, which comes with a choice of side dishes. Two thick slices of meat loaf were enough to satisfy the hungry man. Mixed with onion, pepper and ketchup, the meat was moist, but slightly soggy with a pleasant flavor and a generous puddle of brown gravy. The Vegetable Medley included steamed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower cooked crisp-tender and surprisingly good (bright color, not gray-green). The smooth, buttery mashed potatoes were very good but seemed to call out for a ladleful of gravy.
The kids menu makes it obvious why this is a popular spot among those with children. One friend has enjoyed a brisk walk to and from The Echo with her young son in a stroller. It's been reported that Chicken Fingers ($2.50) is a favorite among the knee-high set.
The menu boasts a wide variety of sandwiches, as well as soups and salads. Weekend specials include Filet of Sole on Friday and Pan-Fried Chicken on Saturday and Sunday.
The menu bills most desserts as homemade, so we chose to sample the Apple Pie A La Mode ($1.95). Two scoops of golden vanilla ice cream topped the warm pie. The apples were firm and sweet, nicely spiced with cinnamon and wrapped in a crisp, short crust. Although Graeter's is right around the corner, we were content with the pie.
While many of the surrounding restaurants sport unusual wine lists (and high decibel-level noise) and seem to cater to the sophisticated palates of working professionals, The Echo offers basic cooking and no alcohol. Their loyal clientele is as diverse as their menu. And the extended hours (6 a.m.—9 p.m. daily) allow for meetings, family gatherings, early dinners for some older adults and casual gatherings for friends and family.
Sometimes, all you need are the basics. It's a good thing The Echo is still on the Square.
Go: 3510 Edwards Road, Hyde Park
Hours: MondaySaturday 6 a.m.9 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.8 p.m.
Payment: Cash and all major credit cards
Vegetarian Friendliness: Many options available