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Thursday, April 26, 2007
You know what we don't have enough of here in the 21st century? Soda fountains and soda shops. When was the last time you met a soda jerk? Are they still around or did they all die off back in the mid-'60s? Maybe there's a small collective of them living somewhere in Arizona, like the Amish. Plying their trade, making hot fudge sundaes and grilled cheese sandwiches, waiting for their craft to come back into style again. I don't know about you but I'd rather see a soda fountain on every block than a Starbucks.
I've heard rumors of a few old pharmacies around town that still have soda fountains but I don't know where any of them are located. Fortunately for those of us in search of oversized milkshakes and comfort food downtown, there's Blueplate on SW Washington. The staff down there don't say "swell" and their arms are more likely to sport tattoos than leather straps to hold up their shirt sleeves but they've successfully managed to update the soda fountains of yore.
One shining example of their efforts:
The Cowboy Coffee Milkshake made with beans from Stumptown Coffee (a local chain of coffee shops that are quickly becoming a symbol of Portland pride bigger than both the rose garden AND the Rose Garden). In one glass it combines the best of both the coffee and the milkshake worlds. It also has a pretty solid caffeine kick. Definitely not the sort of thing you would want to hand over to a hyperactive kid. They'd be up for days.
In addition to sodas with flavors like "ginger spice" and "vanilla honey," Blueplate covers the typical soda fountain bases. There's traditional banana splits, hot fudge sundaes, root beer floats and milkshakes on the menu next to updated house specialty sodas like the "Chai Bomb," which combines a weird selection of spices into its mix.
On the food front, the menu changes daily. The only item that can be found down there every day is the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. During a recent visit, they were serving meat loaf. The diner's website tells me that the daily "blue plate" specials range from sploppy joes to reubens to turkey and fixings. It's a quirky business move but not one that I can really get behind. I like going into a restaurant with a good idea of what I'm going to get. I usually stick with the grilled cheese and the soup.
Another drawback is Blueplate's hours, 11 AM - 5 PM, Monday - Friday. They're strictly a weekday lunch joint but, if they expanded their menu and added in a few regular dishes, I could see the place drawing crowds well into the wee hours. Aside from a few late-night happy hours, I don't think there are enough places to get a cheap meal after dark downtown.
Blueplate could be big if they stayed opened late to cater to bar hoppers, scenesters, etc looking for a bite to eat before they head home for the night. Why go over to that Taco Bell on Burnside for crap to soak up all that booze when you can walk to a place like Blueplate with better atmosphere and a big, kitschy soda fountain that looks like it was lifted out an Archie comic?
Maybe it's just me, but I think Blueplate could become another Voodoo Doughnut, one of those ubiquitous Portland places that everyone takes out-of-towners to. Both take something old and turn them into something new and great.