Gwen Fowler



The Diner is a tasty addition to Columbia

Posted 2/18/2012 5:21:00 PM

I tried a new restaurant in Columbia recently and was lucky to get a tasty meal at a reasonable price and catch an artist at work painting a very cool mural on the wall.

The Diner opened Jan. 10, and when I visited in early February, the restaurant was almost full. Obviously, lots of folks welcome a place where they can get a blue plate special meal of chicken pot pie, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs, or fish and chips – and sides -- for $8.95.

I had the Wednesday night blue plate special, which is fried rainbow trout, with Greek salad and red rice. The portions aren’t huge, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would prefer to get a meal that’s just the right size rather than one with twice as much food that costs twice as much.

My husband is one of those people who likes liver and onions, which is a regular on the dinner menu at The Diner. It was served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Our meals were $8.95 each.

The most expensive thing on the menu is the Saturday blue plate special: a 12-ounce ribeye steak, served with a double-stuffed potato, salad, and a glass or wine, beer or soda. Seems like a bargain for $17.50.

The restaurant has an eclectic look, with booths and tables that look straight out of the 1950s. But what makes it most attractive are the works by local artists displayed throughout the restaurant. While I was not familiar with some of the artists, several works there are by Ernest Lee, better known as The Chicken Man.

And the art doesn’t stop inside. Columbia artist McClellan Douglas is working on a mural on one side of the restaurant that depicts Columbia’s Main Street, with the State Capitol at the end, in the late 1950s. He did some research on what businesses were there at the time, and his mural shows the old Wade Hampton Hotel and the Ritz theater. (He said he’s tried to be accurate, except for drawing The Diner onto Main Street.)

The people in the mural are based on people he knows. A well-dressed couple standing in the street with several children is based on his grandparents. He’s painted the restaurant owners driving down the street in a bright red convertible. When I was there, he was painting several figures in front of a long pink convertible and had photographs taped to the wall to guide him.

The Diner is owned by Fulvio Valsecchi, who also owns Ristorante Divino. It's just off Devine Street on Fort Jackson Boulevard, near the soon-to-open Whole Foods store.