The Seaplane Diner, just after the stainless steel was uncovered
but before it reacquired bright blue flex-glass stripes.
2002 photo copyright Larry Cultrera
I got a heads-up the other day from Denise Bass that there would be a review of the Seaplane Diner in the food section of the Providence Journal (RI) on Thursday. So I checked it out online yesterday at Projo.com. It turned out to be a great review. I know anytime I have been there it was always a good experience. In fact the last time I ate there was back in the spring of 2007.
I had just revisited the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University with my brother Steve. Dick Gutman, the Director of the Museum and author of American Diner Then & Now and the Images of America book – The Worcester Lunch Car Company, showed us a couple of things that were not on display at that time. When we left the Museum it was lunch time and the Seaplane Diner is conveniently located a mile or so down the street, so it was a no-brainer.
I don’t recall what Steve ordered but I know he enjoyed it. I believe I ordered an Italian Sausage sub sandwich and I also was happy with my selection as well. Anyway, here is the text of the Projo.com article by Gail Ciampa, Journal Food Editor……
Dining Out: Nostalgia’s on the menu at the Seaplane Diner
01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, August 28, 2008
France can have its bistros and Italy its trattorias. America will always have its diners. Rhode Island is blessed with several fine ones, including the Seaplane Diner. Here the food is all comforting and familiar (eggs, pancakes and omelets for breakfast; meatloaf, burgers, fried chicken and roasted turkey for lunch). The prices are a bargain, the atmosphere friendly and the service fast. The Seaplane Diner is the real deal –– a Jerry O’Mahony model car, built in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1953. Small and intimate, it seats 60 people in booths and at counter stools.
I’m sorry to say that I drove by it time and time again and never noticed it there on Allens Avenue in Providence, sandwiched between an auto body shop and a factory building. It was Rachael Ray that made me sit up and take notice. Back in May, crews were shooting footage highlighting Providence for a future episode of her show Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels on the Food Network. Her lineup for Providence included 13 spots, including: Al Forno, Cuban Revolution, CAV, Geoff’s Superlative Sandwiches, Haven Brothers, Julian’s, La Laiterie at Farmstead, Nicks On Broadway, Olga’s Cup & Saucer, Pastiche, Waterplace Restaurant and 10 Prime Steak and Sushi. I knew all of those and had dined at them. But then I saw the Seaplane name and wondered all about it. No more.
Here I’ve enjoyed blueberry pancakes for breakfast and meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I’ve tried a special of eggplant parmigiana and a mushroom burger and never had room for dessert. The mini-tableside jukeboxes remind me of my childhood and all those family restaurants where we ate things like spaghetti and meatballs. One quarter could secure music throughout the whole meal. At the Seaplane I looked at the lineups from A1 to V7 and saw Elvis’s “Burning Love.” That’s when it came to me: the Seeburg Consolette jukebox was stuck in the ’70s, just like me. No more music would come from its bad speakers, as they are shut down. But it’s still nostalgic to see them there.
The prices are almost stuck in the past, too. A plate of eggs (any style) with toast, home fries and coffee costs $3.50. A short stack of pancakes costs $3. The eggplant parm on a torpedo roll is a $5.95 special with a huge helping of potato salad. My mushroom burger came with more fries than I could eat and was just $5.25. There are free refills of coffee ($1.75) and sodas ($1.50). As I sucked my root beer down to the end, a refill arrived without being requested. Thank you server Stephanie! And a satisfying cup of the homemade soup of the day, chicken with rice, is just $1.75.
The menu features solid home-style favorites, thanks to Oscar Recinos in the kitchen. His is one of those nice restaurant stories. He started working for the original owner, Robert Arena, eight years ago as a dishwasher and worked his way up to chef. Today’s owner, David Penta, raved about his specials, and if the eggplant parm is an example, he’s on the mark. Penta bought the diner five years ago with Arena’s son, Anthony. Bob Arena bought the Seaplane in 1975 and he still works there, cooking two days a week. His recipes are still in use, including the hearty, moist and wonderful meatloaf like mom used to make. His secret: a bit of ketchup added to the meat. It’s served with a good-sized portion of real mashed potatoes and vegetable of the day (carrots one day, zucchini another) and topped with brown gravy ($6.25).
There’s no doubt that meatloaf is the most in-demand item on the menu, but some of the specials should not be ignored. Start with that eggplant parm. The eggplant was crispy and didn’t taste fried, though it was. It was not bitter, often a problem. The sauce had a pleasant balance of sweet and acidic. The dish had a light layer of mozzarella on top and was served on a crispy Italian roll, torpedo style. All the fresh bread comes from Carmine Borelli, who runs Borelli’s Bakery on Charles Street in Providence. The burgers are also served on a nicely prepared roll and mine was yummy with lots of sautéed mushrooms.
Accompanying the eggplant sandwich was a potato salad, a tasty version made with red bliss potatoes, lots of them, with a bit of onion and pepper. The dressing was a blend of mayonnaise and yellow mustard, but just a bit. The texture of the potato was just right — not too hard and not too soft. When I had breakfast a few weeks earlier, I was first surprised at the speed with which my food arrived after ordering. Server Laura agreed that the chef kept no one waiting very long for their meal. Three large blueberry pancakes ($4.50) were topped with butter and powdered sugar and full of fruit. No skimping here. The side of bacon ($2.25) was crisp.
Likewise, the scrambled eggs, well-seasoned home fries and wheat toast of my companion ($3.50) made for a satisfying breakfast. Breakfast is offered, along with sandwiches, for the two late nights the diner opens, Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Those prices are slightly higher, with breakfast items averaging 50 cents to $1 higher and some sandwiches an additional 25 cents. Still, all the food here is a deal.
Yes, Paris can have its bistros and we’ll take diners like the Seaplane. Berets would be out of place on Allens Avenue anyway.
Bill of fare
A breakfast for two at Seaplane Diner might look like this:
Side of bacon…$2.25
Bill of fare
A lunch for two at Seaplane Diner might look like this:
The Seaplane Diner, 307 Allens Ave., Providence. (401) 941-9547. Very casual. Free parking lot. Three steps to get in –– not wheelchair accessible. Highchairs. AE, D, MC, V. Monday to Friday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Also late-night dining Friday and Saturday 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Breakfast items $1.95 to $7.95; lunch sandwiches $4.75 to $8.75; dinners $6.25 to $8.95; seafood $2.75 to $12.95. Late-night prices for breakfast slightly higher.