|Past, present, future lunch
Blueplate dishes a slice of yesteryear
– Willamette Week
Buried under steaming bowls of pho, gigantic burritos and other dishes we've embraced as comfort food is a lost cuisine: traditional American.
Unpretentious and simple by nature, biscuits, meatloaf and other stick-to-your-ribs dishes are often absent from our urbane lives.
Enter the Blueplate Lunch Counter and Soda Fountain. Housed in Dekum Building, Blueplate is an old-school downtown diner specializing in comfort food—American-style. And, as there are only three items on the Blueplate menu and they change daily (courtesy of owner-chef Jeffrey Reiter, who used to be sous chef at Park Kitchen), the choice of what to order is effortless.
The rotating specials include a hot dish (blue plate special), an entrée-sized salad and a daily sandwich. On one visit, the blue plate was big, juicy roasted chicken with mushrooms and buttered noodles ($8). Another day featured a heaping plate of savory chicken and dumplings ($8) that could easily make one forget how miserable Portland is in the winter.
Blueplate's meatloaf has been such a hit that the restaurant delivers box lunches ($10) of the loaf to local offices, and it shows up frequently as the sandwich special. Although the meatloaf sandwich ($6) appears smallish, the thick slices of better-than-your-mom's meatloaf with shredded lettuce and tomato, served with mashed potatoes, will do the job.
Salads are well portioned and filling, especially a lemony and garlickly Caesar ($5) with an ever-so-slight amount of anchovy. And the grilled cheese sandwich with housemade tomato soup ($5) is a dunk-worthy combo that's always on the menu.
Blueplate is also home to one of the only in-house soda fountains in Portland, featuring classics like chocolate Coke and original concoctions that make a mockery of your Diet Pepsi. The Hawaiian Sunset ($2.50) is a sweet strawberry soda with pineapple and coconut, and the Chai Bomb ($3) is a complex but agreeable blend of cardamom, cloves, ginger, anise and black pepper. For an extra buck fifty, they'll float a scoop of ice cream in any of their drinks. Also on the menu are gigantic sundaes, milkshakes ($3 and $6), super-sized banana splits ($8) and a stellar peach melba with marshmallow whipped cream ($6). Or dig into the jars of penny candy near the register—just like in old movies. Blueplate serves French press Stumptown coffee and boasts free wi-fi, and service is fast and friendly—even with a staff of two.
Old-school diners with square meals and soda fountains used to be commonplace but pretty much disappeared as our comfort cuisine was paved over by automobile-centric convenience. Blueplate brings it back, dishing up a slice of yesteryear in a landmark Portland building.
CHEAP EATS: Square Deals
- Willamette Week
Sick of the same old, same old? Sidle up to one of Blueplate's (308 SW Washington St., 295-2583) barstools and check out the daily-rotating menu. A recent Monday dished out a Blueplate Special of cornbread waffles harmoniously sopped in honey butter and maple syrup ($8) and a sandwich special boasting Northwest sliders (two mini burgers with creamy pesto mayo and cheese) with jojo potatoes ($6).
CHEAP EATS: The Perfect Portland Takeout Plate
- Willamette Week
Chai bomb soda by Blueplate, $3 ($4.50 with ice cream) Blueplate's chai bomb soda is a complex marriage of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and anise on crushed ice. Sweet and peppery, it's one of the most unique and delicious soda concoctions you'll ever try. Get it solo or add a scoop of vanilla.
Visitors to this days-gone-by café can pass the time waiting for meals sitting on the swivel stools in front of the soda counter and talking about the powders and candies that filling the nearby shelves. Dark stained wood and gold accents complete the look. The daily-changing lunch menu has only a few options, such as turkey and gravy or a BLT salad. But the lunch options are rounded out with thick ice cream shakes and unique drinks like chai soda.
|from the Oregonian:
"... the most inspired lunch spot downtown."
"... step from bustling Southwest Washington Street into this realm of retro bliss."
"Eddie‘s Sweet Shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens, a quintessential ice cream parlor, has nothing on Portland's Blueplate."
"... it's worth any wait: The food is as brilliantly unfashionable as the decor, and cooked to perfection."
"... chunky homemade tomato soup that the best mother in the world couldn't top."
"The BLT salad is really a deconstructed BLT, including even the crusts, as if some inspired madman simply ripped apart the sandwich then dressed it handsomely."
"The slow-cooked, grainy brisket is a scrumptious dish."
"The mac and cheese is properly gooey, the cheese oozing like molten gold, and the Cajun chicken zaps the bubbly mass with the right dash of heat."
"But as good as the food is, nothing else in town matches the fabulous soda fountain selections for variety or quality."
"This is the perfect spot to handle your mid-afternoon sugar craving. At lunch, ideally, you have a soda with your food and a milkshake as dessert."
"Reiter has invented and mixes his own syrups for the sodas... all are wonderfully refreshing to complement Blueplate's substantial lunches."
"Bring to your lips a spoonful of a Brown Cow or a sip of egg cream, and just as Proust felt with his tea and cake, "the vicissitudes of life" will become indifferent, "its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory": you'll cease "to feel mediocre or mortal," for your childhood will flood back with memories long dormant. Not bad for a couple of bucks."
|At Blueplate, it's all special
Have lunch at Blueplate Lunch Counter and Soda Fountain, and you'll inevitably start talking about your childhood.
This downtown hole-in-the-wall elicits so much nostalgia that any inhibitions you have about yakking about your youth will disappear faster than you can slurp a strawberry milkshake. If your therapist thinks you've repressed scenes from your early days, just bring the shrink to Blueplate for lunch and your tied tongue will happily wag.
Jeff Reiter, former sous chef at Park Kitchen, has turned an old jewelry store into the most inspired lunch spot downtown. He wields the spatula in a modest kitchen that features not much more than a couple of portable grills and a burner or two.
What drove him to start such a place? "I know my Norman Rockwell," Reiter says. "I wanted to get back to real American food, from before the '50s turned it all to cardboard. I researched magazines and books from the '20s, and voila!"
It's a pleasant shock to step from bustling Southwest Washington Street into this realm of retro bliss. With six tables, brown wooden fixtures and a row of green counter stools, the eatery, in the landmark Dekum Building, looks like a combination old-timey lunch counter, soda fountain and apothecary from the '40s. Instead of crayons, lollipops are on each table -- and suddenly, it's like you're a kid again! A tall wooden cabinet displays decorative flagons of fluorescent-colored liquids, while the counter holds jars of hard candies and chewing gum.
Eddie's Sweet Shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens, a quintessential ice cream parlor, has nothing on Portland's Blueplate.
Open only from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, Blueplate can be a tough table to score. But it's worth any wait: The food is as brilliantly unfashionable as the decor, and cooked to perfection. The two daily specials rotate through the week as predictably as the phases of the moon. If it's Tuesday, there must be brisket pot roast; Wednesday, expect chicken mac and cheese; Thursday, what else but meatloaf?
A sandwich special appears with the same diurnal regularity (the likes of chipotle chicken, roast beef, pulled pork), while a couple of classics complete the spare menu, like a platonically flawless grilled cheese sandwich -- try it with bacon -- accompanied by a cup of chunky homemade tomato soup that, when you came home from school, the best mother in the world couldn't top. The BLT salad is really a deconstructed BLT, including even the crusts, as if some inspired madman simply ripped apart the sandwich then dressed it handsomely.
The slow-cooked, grainy brisket is a scrumptious dish: four or five generous hunks of fork-tender and richly flavorful meat swimming in a light-but-meaty gravy, along with carrots and boiled potatoes. It could use a hit of horseradish on the side. The mac and cheese is properly gooey, the cheese oozing like molten gold, and the Cajun chicken zaps the bubbly mass with the right dash of heat. The meatloaf is less wonderful, and the accompanying mashed potatoes are a tad lumpy and over-salted, though the gravy has a nice mushroom flavor.
But as good as the food is, nothing else in town matches the fabulous soda fountain selections for variety or quality.
This is the perfect spot to handle your mid-afternoon sugar craving. At lunch, ideally, you have a soda with your food and a milkshake as dessert.
Reiter has invented and mixes his own syrups for the sodas, and some of the most interesting are made from imaginative combinations of herbs and spices: Purple Haze (hibiscus, allspice, star anise), Chai Bomb (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, star anise) and the Eastern Connection (orange, ginger, lemongrass). Some are tart, some are tangy, some are heady, but all are wonderfully refreshing to complement Blueplate's substantial lunches.
Milkshakes are served in traditional ribbed glasses. Syrups are from scratch and the superpremium ice cream is from Eugene's Cascade Glacier, a dairy dating from early last century. You can indulge in such classics as the Chunky Strawberry, which fairly shouts summertime in Oregon, and the Frosted Orange, like a liquid Creamsicle. If you want to break free of tradition, go for the Arctic Chai shake, made with green tea ice cream and chai syrup.
Bring to your lips a spoonful of a Brown Cow or a sip of egg cream, and just as Proust felt with his tea and cake, "the vicissitudes of life" will become indifferent, "its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory": you'll cease "to feel mediocre or mortal," for your childhood will flood back with memories long dormant.
Not bad for a couple of bucks.
Review: Blueplate Lunch Counter and Soda Fountain Grade: B+
Cuisine and scene: Retro lunches and fabulous shakes, floats and sodas
Must-have dishes: Brisket pot roast, grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, Cajun chicken macaroni and cheese; drinks, especially "Chef Jeff's Specialties" and the three-scoop shakes
Vegetarian friendly? A couple of salads, and that grilled cheese
Sound level: Surprisingly quiet -- diners must be entranced by the beverages