Blue Plate Diner
2041 S. 2100 East, Salt Lake City ; 801-463-1151
A neighborhood favorite, especially for breakfast but not really worth a wait.
Cuisine: American, Cafe
Hours: Open daily, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Corkage: $ 0
Recommended Dishes: Club sandwich, fries three ways, milkshakes, corncakes and huevos lobiani chile verde.
July 19, 2006
Lackadaisical service meets lackluster food
By Mary Brown Malouf
"You wonder why these people are even in the service business." My uncompromising young dining companion graduated from college all of three months ago, but he was outstandingly qualified to pass severe judgment on our young server at Blue Plate Diner, having worked as a waiter in Santa Fe to support his great books habit. He had been trained by the harsh expectations of a sophisticated, wealthy clientele in an expensive tourist town.
So, although we were eating on a laid-back, casual patio in an unpretentious café on a sunny afternoon, he was nevertheless appalled by a slacker server who announced, after having delivered our plates of food, "I'm sorry. We're out of forks."
Out of forks?
She found us some cellophane-wrapped to-go packets of plastic to use, but, please, out of forks? I'm sorry, but that's simply not possible. It couldn't have taken much more time to wash five forks than it took to scrape up some plasticware, but it would have required considerably more giving-a-flip about serving your customer.
Blue Plate Diner is obviously a beloved institution more than a serious restaurant: The service is questionable, although not always as bad as our forkless and less-than-resourceful server. And the kitchen seems to share the who-gives-a-darn attitude of the servers. Nevertheless, the place is always packed at normal mealtimes.
Still, having ordered the chicken-fried steak with country gravy ($9.95), we were flummoxed to hear that the kitchen was "out of" country gravy.
Cooking a chicken-fried steak automatically results in the most essential ingredient of country gravy: hot grease with lots of flavor. All you do then is make a roux, just add flour in this instance, splash it with some broth or water, stir and season to taste. So what could the kitchen be out of, elbow grease?
Our Blue Plate lunch was a disappointment all around: a lumpen burger ($5.95) with a patty as dense as concrete, though it came in a nice, flour-dusted bun; thick, bland slices of housemade meatloaf ($9.95) scummed over with it-couldn't-have-been-country-so-it-must-have-been-urban gravy, overcooked vegetables and gummy mashed potatoes, allegedly flavored with basil. Garlic and horseradish were also options — plain mashed potatoes were not.
The turkey sandwich ($7.45), with real roasted white meat, an aging avocado and some radish sprouts, seemed expensive, considering. Better was the club sandwich ($8.45), spiced up with black pepper rind on the bacon and updated with the sophistication of salmon.
Fries came three ways: thick-cut and dusted with Cajun spice, skinny shoestrings or steak-cut rounds, all good. And besides beer, there's a full fountain with fine milkshakes ($3.25) and an array of syrup flavors from the usual — vanilla, banana, strawberry — to the experimental — mint orange raspberry, Irish cream and ironport. We tried the ironport ($3.25); it tasted like faded root beer.
Altogether better than lunch — or dinner, which shares most of the midday menu — is breakfast. The inside of the café, repellently stuffy on a hot summer's day, is pleasant, though noisy, in the morning. Our server on another visit, one of the more experienced on staff, was efficient and proficient, if not particularly graceful or personable. The breakfast menu is more exciting, too, than the later offerings — no wonder Blue Plate offers it all day. I suggest you arrive in the mood for morning fare.
Like corncakes, for example. Normal restaurant pancakes are often a travesty — thick, flabby and tasteless, drooping over one another like stacked futons. At Blue Plate, cornmeal provides the same style of pillowy cake ($5.95) with a definable texture and taste, although they still soak up butter and syrup like florist's foam and would have been enormously better if the syrup had been pure, warm maple instead of a corn-syrup imitation. Pancakes also come in cranberry, banana, blueberry and chocolate-chip versions.
An order of bacon ($2.95) was obviously from two different batches; some of the strips were translucent and limp, while others were brittle. An enormous serving of French toast ($5.95) was thoroughly egg-soaked so that once sautéed, the bread was congealed into custard. With it came an order of home fries, crisp on the outside, floury on the inside, successful like the lunch potatoes.
The corned beef and fried potatoes in the corned-beef hash ($8.50) had barely gotten acquainted, apparently only just tossed together in a skillet for a few moments before being plated. It tasted good, but I think of hash as a dish whose ingredients have been cozily mingling for some time, so their flavors have meshed. Three overpoached eggs could not help with the melding, either.
The breakfast tamale ($8.50) was chicken-filled, but the masa was soggy; the flavor was good, but the consistency was more like cornmeal mush. Toast, three eggs and home fries rounded out the breakfast. Only one of us was intuitive enough to order the huevos lobiani chile verde ($7.95), an innovative, culture-clashed dish of eggs in spicy New Mexican-style green chili on a sort of Russian-inspired heavy biscuit. The best menu item we tried, it came with three eggs and home fries, too. Good thing we were hiking later, or breakfast might have been with us for days.
Blue Plate's menu spins story about the café's heritage — it was founded "around the turn of the century" and furnished with a mishmash of funky kitsch and Art Deco relics. Oddly, the menu also says that the goal of Blue Plate Diner is "to appease modern tastes."
Maybe this just proves once again that appeasement is not a good policy.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.