Ye Olde Soda Shoppe 

Blueplate's Special Something

It's always nice to find lunch options downtown that don't involve a trailer, and new café/soda shoppe Blueplate is a welcome addition to the midday dining scene. Blueplate is a stylishly cozy little spot, a hipster take on the classic small-town diner that, wisely, doesn't let irony anywhere near the food. Serving American classics (think meatloaf sandwiches and Waldorf salads) alongside an impressive list of specialty sodas, shakes, and floats, the tiny space is tricked out like an old-school soda fountain, complete with bar stools and a long wooden bar. With the exception of their weirdly schlocky website, eatatblueplate.com (featuring the terrible line, "If Norman Rockwell were a cook, he'd work here"), Blueplate has nailed down a charming aesthetic: Americana sans kitsch.

The food, all composed by chef Jeffery Reiter, is familiar and unpretentious. The tiny menu rotates daily and is limited to a sandwich special, a salad special, a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, and, of course, the Blueplate Special. On my first visit, the Blueplate Special was chicken and dumplings, a well-executed classic that was a perfect antidote to the frigid weather. A turkey sandwich with bleu cheese and bacon on Texas toast was exactly as sloppy, greasy, and delicious as it sounds, and the accompanying mashed potatoes were lumpy and mashed with their skins, just like I like 'em. There were a few hitches among the mostly successful items I tried. On one visit, surf and turf was the daily special; and while the surf (a skewer of tender prawns) tasted great, the ribs representing the landlubbers were dry, stringy, and nearly flavorless. Another time, the gloppy Caesar salad was lackadaisically tossed, with big gross pockets of dressing. (Like I always tell my boyfriend: If you're gonna toss my salad, make sure you commit to getting the job done. Otherwise, don't bother.)

The food, though, really takes a backseat to the soda fountain (if there's any doubt about this, just compare the double-sided drink list with the modest, five-item food menu). House-mixed sodas include the Eastern Delight, a brisk blend of orange, ginger, lemongrass, and kefir lime leaf, and the Purple Haze, with hibiscus, allspice, and star anise. In addition to the exotic combos, you'll find all the classics, from chocolate malt to an egg cream. The ginormous, three-scoop milkshakes are perfect for sharing; in fact, they're perfect, period, topped with a pile of whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cherries, and served in a real fountain glass, and if you and your special someone have never done the cutesy one milkshake/two straws thing, I suggest you stop by at once. Never mind the cold, that's what cuddling is for. At $6, the shakes are a touch on the expensive side, but to coin a phrase: It's a pretty fucking good milkshake. I don't know if it's worth six dollars, but it's pretty fucking good.

I don't know how they did it, but Blueplate managed to make me nostalgic for something I've never even experienced—something, in fact, that I don't really believe ever existed: the small-town, good-old-days version of America. Honest food, root beer with crushed ice, and... poodle skirts? I know the whole thing sounds a little too "family values," but don't let the wholesomeness deter you: Sometimes a meatloaf sandwich just hits the spot.

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