Ever since I moved in with Angela back in July, there have been some incidental changes that have taken some getting used to on my part. For one thing, while I once lived more or less in the city, Hilliard (my new stomping grounds) is fairly suburban, and naturally this means a lot more driving. Most of my regular destinations (work, school, my movie theatres of choice) tend to be a twenty minute drive or more, which may not sound like much to those of you who are used to New York/L.A. commutes, but is much more than I’m used to. Still, it’s not all bad- how could it be, when I’m with Ang and the offspring full-time now? In addition, Hilliard offers some unique amenities of its own, beginning with one of my favorite restaurants in town, the Starliner Diner.
Situated comfortably atop a hill on Cemetary Road just west of a set of railroad tracks, the Starliner is an unassuming little storefront operation. But once you’re inside, the place reveals its true character. Its walls are covered with murals and trinkets- one wall is devoted almost entirely to retro clocks- but it’s hardly the designer bric-a-brac that lines your local Applebee’s. At Starliner the surroundings are more than background noise- they’re indicative of the off-kilter quirkiness of the joint, and provide easy conversations starters to first-time visitors. This isn’t your father’s greasy spoon, that’s for sure.
But of course the real draw of Starliner is the food. Rather than sticking to the traditional diner fare of middle-of-the-road sandwiches and soups, Starliner delivers a distinctively Latin flair with its menu. So while you can still get a burger’n’fries, there’s plenty to satisfy more adventurous diners. Sandwich-wise, I highly recommend the Cajun Chicken Melt (loaded with bacon and cheese, plus veggies that include a slice of avocado) and the classic Cuban Sandwich. The latter is a dead-pig-lover’s delight, piled high with both flavorful pork and just-salty-enough ham, plus the requisite cheese, yellow mustard and pickles- though if you’re like me, you’ll want extra pickles.
And the goodness doesn’t stop there, since Starliner has a wide array of sides and appetizers. Most meals come with fries or tortilla chips, but I recommend substituting (for a small fee) the addictive fried plantains or the sweet potato fries, which are complemented perfectly by the Starliner’s chipotle Ranch dressing. And if you’re really hungry, start off your meal with an order of the black bean nachos- the order’s big enough to share, and they’re so flavorful that adding meat would be overdoing it. The Starliner also makes tasty burritos, pastas, and entrees, all with their trademark pizzazz.
It wasn’t until more recently, however, that I managed to discover Starliner’s tasty breakfast menu. I’ve quickly become a fan of their Huevos Rancheros, served with either home fries or black beans, although you can ask for half-and-half. Even better are their pancakes, which are- no exaggeration- some of the best I’ve ever tasted. These plate-filling flapjacks are cooked to a pleasing shade of golden brown, and are fluffy without being doughy- no mean feat, that. Starliner’s menu also offers banana pancakes, which I highly recommend- the fruitiness nicely offsets the sweetness of the pancake batter and the table syrup. Sometimes they also offer chocolate chip or blueberries with the pancakes as well, and while the chocolate (which I haven’t tried) seems like it would be overkill, the plump, fresh blueberries make the already tasty ‘cakes even better. Their breakfasts are so comfort-food addictive that it’s probably a good thing that they keep wonky breakfast hours- open at 9 AM, after most of us are at work.
Like any good diner, Starliner offers a good selection of daily specials to complement their menu, and they’re almost always intriguing enough to make me second-guess my meal choice- for example, on my last breakfast visit they offered a fascinating pairing of crab cakes and eggs. But really- you can’t go wrong with anything at Starliner, at least not in my experience. I’ve tried a good number of their dishes, and everything I’ve tried I’d recommend. So if you ever find yourself up in Hilliard, drop in at Starliner. Heck, drop me a line and I’ll be seriously tempted to join you.