Neighbourhood gentrification - case in point, the oft-referenced 104 Street downtown - invariably sweeps up eateries that broke ground in said locale before it was cool. The Blue Plate Diner, for example, fed people in the heart of the city before one could have an espresso just across the street, shop for cheese underground, pick up a few essentials at a nearby organic grocer, or peruse a palate-popping collection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Blue Plate's boho-retro palette of red walls, lino-cut artwork, and shabby-chic tables that look like they came from your Aunt Velma's kitchen circa 1975 befit a crowd that covers everything from the suit and tie set to those who sport ironic sunglasses and skinny jeans. A lunch menu eschews the temptation to be all things to all people, though, and bespeaks the value of brevity.
Grilled cornbread presents two impressively hefty squares of maize and maple. Heady maple syrup is a smoky and seductive negligee that enrobes and enraptures each square. Although the menu identifies these treats as vegetarian-friendly, they evoke the essence of corn fritters fried in bacon fat. So wrong, and yet so right.
Mac and Cheese comprises a concoction of corkscrew pasta, cheese-laced bechamel sauce, and a garnish of chopped tomatoes. The noodles are nicely al dente, but a paucity of cheese sauce renders each cavatappi semi-nude. Moreover, although the menu purports the existence of cheddar, asiago and mozza, their distinctive voices are somehow muted. Chopped tomatoes are somewhat redundant; a seasoned crumb topping would better befit the Blue Plate's retro vibe and impart much-needed texture.
A Grilled Veggie Sandwich fares better. Two triangles of crusty bread sport a medley of grilled veg that includes mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and arugula. A layer of provolone would welcome a quick trip through a toaster oven to melt it completely. Red pepper-tinged goat cheese is assertive and zesty, but the red pepper component could be omitted to allow the chevre's irrepressible zing to prevail unadulterated.
A line-up at the door bespeaks Blue Plate's enduring popularity, but I caution the Plate not to rest on its laurels. Lunch at Blue Plate hit some low notes in spite of high notes in the guise of cornbread. Mac and cheese should taste, at the very least, like cheese. At least with the sandwich, you could really taste the goat.