Fine Diner

Old-school types are drawn to the throwback feel and value of Marina Village Restaurant, which sits in the corner of a strip mall and is easy to overlook.

Red vinyl at the booths and on the barstools, off-white laminate tables and countertops and menus that double as placemats give the Marina Village Restaurant an old school vibe, reinforced by the simple, meat-heavy menu featuring items such as burgers, chicken fried steak and meatloaf.

I went the first time for an early dinner, accompanied by two friends. We were greeted by a waitress telling us to sit wherever as she watched the news from a stool, lending to an informal atmosphere. As soon as we chose a booth, the waitress came to take our drink orders. My friend and I ordered a Budweiser – no fancy craft beers here, just mainstream American lagers. We noted that the two most expensive items on the menu were pork chops and steak, at $10.25 and $10.65, respectively. Other items include shrimp cocktails, fish and chips and deep fried scallops. A variety of hot and cold sandwiches such as egg salad, BLTs, French dips and roast beef also make an appearance.

By the time our Buds arrived, my friend settled on the meatloaf dinner ($7.85) with French fries, mixed vegetables and a salad with Italian dressing, while his girlfriend opted for fish and chips ($8.25) with the same salad. I ordered the chicken fried steak ($9.35) with Thousand Island on my salad, and the waitress jotted all of this down quickly before shouting the orders to the chef. The waitress moved to the only other occupied table to take an order and gossip, as the diners seemed to be regulars.

The salads were the first to come out. They were side-salad size, covered with generous helpings of dressing. My friends both agreed that the house-made Italian dressing was tart, but not overpowering.

Our entrees arrived as soon as we finished our salads. My chicken-fried steak was covered in thick, brown gravy, different from the cream-colored sausage gravy of my native Texas. The steak itself was tender and juicy, cooked all the way through and coated with a golden brown breading, crispy but bland in the seasoning, though the hot gravy was savory enough to compensate. The toasted French bread on the side was crispy but not dry, covered with a hearty amount of butter and garlic salt. My friend’s meatloaf was thick and covered in the same gravy as my steak. He described it as tender and well seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, with celery, onions, carrots and bread crumbs incorporated in the loaf. He ate the entire thing in about two minutes. The vegetables were previously frozen, and the crispy fries could’ve used salt, but he had no complaints. That’s the beauty of a complete dinner for $7.85.

His girlfriend’s fish was tender and flaky – despite being frozen – and the tartar sauce was tangy and zesty.

I went back the next morning, this time accompanied by two other friends. One roommate ordered a chili-and-cheese omelette ($8.05) – with a side of pancakes instead of toast – while the other ordered ham and eggs sunny side up ($7.45) with hash browns and white toast.

Despite the numerous omelettes and breakfast specials offered, including creamed beef on toast (listed as S.O.S., an affectionate term given to the dish by the U.S. military standing for, among other things, “Something on a Shingle”), I simply had to have the chicken fried steak again, this time with scrambled eggs ($9.35), to see if it was as good in the morning as it was the evening.

We didn’t wait long for our food, and promptly dug in. The chicken fried steak was even better in the morning, with more seasoning. The gravy was even a bit thicker than the previous day.

Across the table, the chili-and-cheese omelette did not have enough spice to satisfy my roommate, and the meat-to-bean ratio leaned a little heavily to the bean side. The ham and eggs, meanwhile, were “plain, very plain.” The pancakes were good, although he described the size, about 6 inches in diameter, as disheartening. My roommate and I both agreed that the hash browns were undercooked and under salted.

I went back a third time, joined by a friend with an appreciation for good coffee. He found the coffee to be dark with a good backbone, classic small diner fare. Another important point: His cup was refilled every 10 minutes, as the restaurant had more customers than usual. He ordered the Marina “deluxe” sandwich ($9.45), with crisp, tender thin-sliced roast beef, American and cheddar cheese and a slice of tomato. All of this was nestled snugly between two slices of buttered, pan fried sourdough just crispy enough to absorb the juices from the meat and tomato without falling out. My half-pound bacon cheeseburger ($8.75) featured two ground-beef patties, tender and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. Melted American cheese layers itself between the patties, topped off with a layer of crisp but juicy bacon. Throw in lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle and I was quite full by the end of the burger.

That’s Marina Village. It’s not where you go for five-star cuisine, interior design or a wine list. But for a bargain Americana meal, you can do a lot worse.

Marina Village Restaurant 215 Reservation Road, Marina. 6:30am-9pm Monday-Saturday (until 8pm Wednesday), closed Sunday. 384-4711.

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