Columbians are dining their way through yesteryear upon the rails of the Columbia Star Dinner Train. The only establishment of its kind in Missouri, the train’s four royal blue 1938 passenger cars offer a culinary portal to the past; a bulky time machine chugging toward a simpler era.
“We give people a three-hour ride while they eat a five-course, fine dining meal,” says David Tenny, general manager of the Columbia Star Dinner Train.
Not your average travel food, the cuisine on the dinner train is prepared by local chef Scott Hampton. Passengers can choose from a variety of flavorful dishes including trout amandine and prime rib. Every meal is prepared on board the train’s kitchen car and served fresh off the stove. “There are only three dinner trains in the United States that make their food on the train, and we’re one of them,” Tenny says.
Diners enjoy the gourmet meal and the view while the train winds through 21 miles of picturesque Boone County landscape from Columbia to Centralia. As many as 224 guests can board the train at 6501 N. Brown Station Road. To ensure smooth traveling, the train has an engine on each end, which means the train can travel to and from Centralia without turning around.
Although the dinner train seems glamorous enough to be the setting of an old Hollywood movie, creating that nostalgic feeling was no easy feat. The train cars had to be shipped from Waterloo, Iowa, and then refurbished to accommodate diners. Cars were gutted, and the wood and carpeting were restored. Now each dining car holds two rows of tables bolted to the floor, each table draped in a pristine white tablecloth.
Since the train began running on the Columbia Terminal (COLT) short line railroad track last July, customers — from as far away as the East Coast and Canada — have been clamoring for tickets. “We’re the No. 1 tourist attraction in Columbia right now,” Tenny claims. “We brought at least 200 different hotel stays [in Columbia] that are exactly linked back to just us.”
Besides bringing in tourists, Tenny says the dinner train also contributes to Columbia’s economy by paying more than $50,000 a year to the city for use of the Columbia-owned COLT tracks in addition to supporting local vendors. “We get all our chocolates from the Candy Factory,” Tenny says. “We get all our flowers from Kent’s Floral Gallery. As much as I can, I try to purchase stuff locally.”
The Columbia Star Dinner Train runs Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner and Sunday mornings for brunch. Ticket prices, which include the meal and train ride, are $79.95 for dinner and $59.95 for brunch.
“Being on a train is unique,” Tenny says. “How many times do people get to eat on trains or get to experience this?”
Watch this video about the Columbia Star Dinner Train, produced by KHQA-TV: