Restaurant Review: Starliner Diner
Starliner Diner originally launched years ago on Cemetery Road. It took flight when demolition crews were scheduled for the original digs this spring. As of early June, its landed safely nearby on Main Street in Hilliard.
Okay, with that out of the way, Starliner’s back. Most restaurants don’t transition nearly so well. It takes months, sometimes years to open in a new location. But somehow Starliner Diner managed to get itself back in business in a month’s time: unprecedented.
And not only is it back in business, the new spot is fully decorated in epic Starliner Style. It has the mural, it has the crazy clocks on the wall, and a day-glow sci-fi space ship hovers above the front lobby. The effect is otherworldly.
That wasn’t a pun, by the way: more like a literal truth.
The new space is larger. It’s also still packed with humanity. The menu is familiar, but since it’s been a while since the last Starliner tour, let’s talk about it.
You’re supposed to order the Plantains ($6) for an appetizer. That’s what everyone does, and that’s what everyone’s been talking about all these years: the plantains… and the sauce. The sliced starchy banana-cousins get a nice fried treatment that keeps them firm (unlike actual bananas, which would turn to mush under such circumstances). The famous sauce with which they’re paired is like a creamy, chunky salsa: rich and pink and tomatoey.
After the appetizer, there lots of ways to go, salads, sandwiches, pasta. The place has a huge menu. In the sandwich section, the Cuban ($8) is solid here. It’s not a wanna-be or a hybrid, it’s the real deal with thick-cut pork and ham teamed simply with swiss cheese, classic mustard and pickle slices. Served on a hoagie roll with more plantains, it scores on the aggressive, pure flavors of its components.
The Mofongo Omelette ($9.50) was a daily special, and it’s super fun to say (for obvious reasons). It is an omelette folded over cheese, ham, bacon and bits of of plantain, then served with nice grilled potatoes. Having somehow thought it was actually going to be Mofongo, the normal-ness of the omelette presentation was a little disappointing. Then again, it’s not like the label didn’t clearly say “omelette”. It is what it is.
The absolute win of the day is the Grilled Pizza Bread Salad ($9.25). Being partial, generally speaking, to genres of food bearing names such as “garbage burgers” and “kitchen sink brownies”, the idea of pizza and salad all dumped together is intrinsically appealing. The salad delivers in exactly that garbage way: the pizza base supports a salad made with just a little lettuce that quickly wilts under the glorious, warm weight of sauteed chicken, mushrooms, zucchini, potatoes, tomato and peppers. As everything-on-a-plate, it’s got a ratatouille summer accent in the flavor department.
For a more regular sort of combo, there is the deliciously creamy Fettuccine Caliente ($12), which also boasts chicken, peppers, onions, and corn. Starliner does a good job with the pasta, but it’s hard to justify picking something normal-ish over the glory of Pizza Bread Salad.
You can find the familiar Starliner Diner in its new home at 4121 Main Street.
For more information, visit www.starlinerdiner.com.
All photos by Walker Evans.