On one plate, pumpkin pancakes were all virtue -- moist as the inside of a squash, their savory vegetal flavor cutting through the sweetness of a foaming maple cream sauce. A scattering of pecans on top added righteous crunch. On the other plate, deception: a dish called Breakchetta (a pun on Italian bruschetta), promising scrambled eggs "on crisp toasts," actually centered upon pale slices of uncrisped New Orleans-style French bread. The bread's stale affect might have passed for the work of a toaster if the stray vinaigrette from a breakfast fruit-and-greens salad hadn't turned it into a sponge.
Is it heartening to read that, when all was said and done, identical mugs of burnt coffee united my friend and me? Some days you take what you can get.
Considering its position as an economical, daytime-only cafe on a minor thoroughfare, Blue Plate has generated a surprisingly loud buzz amongst my Uptown and Garden District acquaintances. I scrambled for my notebook the first time I spotted it, drawn by the meatloaf-and-potatoes appeal of its retro name, and also by the welcoming appearance of the corner building's compact, window-wrapped dining room and warm, slate-blue exterior.
Inside, the warmth persists, facilitated by a congenial waitstaff, some members of which are familiar transplants from other Uptown restaurants and coffee houses. The muted, slightly moody, purple, green and yellow walls encourage amity, and the decorative plates hanging on them almost convince you that a grandmother lives here. Country kitsch blends with colorful whimsy in the animated salt and pepper shakers (I favor the fish dressed for the beach), the faux Victorian portraits and the tasseled rug painted onto the floor. Perfectly tanned and toned, Ken and Barbie hang by their napes on the gender-appropriate restroom doors.
Similar to the space, Blue Plate's menu projects an attractive attitude of modernized comfort, of traditional diner values informed by the contemporary succor of imported cheeses, fruit smoothies, breakfast burritos and the universe of lettuce beyond iceberg. Pesto, blue cheese mousse and onion rings get equal ink on a huge page that lists breakfast on one side (served daily until 10:30 a.m.) and lunch on the other. Like driving an 18-wheeler, you need two hands to read it. It's a funny document, with dishes named Bayoudilla, Crawfish Hollybob and The Whole Hog -- and it's a minefield.
After two breakfast trips and two lunch trips, my internal red/blue map of taste is, like the country, fairly purple. Breakfast did deliver more victories, a number of dishes illustrating that the kitchen has its basic skills down pat. Baking powder biscuits were nicely brittle outside and downy inside; buttermilk pancakes were tangy and crisped on the surface; and the Piglet included two expertly poached eggs, well-seasoned grits and fried ham. A BLT po-boy, the "T" represented by a fried green tomato, and pain perdu stuffed with Brie cheese and pecans, were successful innovations. Burnt coffee and cold, congealed bacon were the only recurring morning failures.
Lunches were far dicier, darkened by paper-dry pork loin, tough pork chops and roast beef, and macque choux made with gummy corn. The greatest disappointment was a seafood muffaletta. The description -- sauteed shrimp, oysters and crawfish with olive salad on a round, seeded muffaletta loaf -- promised greatness. But the seafood smelled and tasted spoiled, and one bite was more than enough.
The onion rings were great, thin and super-browned, more like fried onions than fried batter. I can also recommend the chicken and andouille gumbo, emboldened by smoke and alive with pepper. Both enjoyed during my final lunch at Blue Plate, these successful appetizers strengthened the following conclusion: When in doubt, the simpler, and the more familiar, the better. If horseradish and Brie cheese sounds like a risky combination (both appear on a roast beef sandwich), or if you doubt the compatibility of equal parts chutney and sour cream on a pork chop, trust that instinct. I did like the unusual P-Nutty Slaw, coleslaw following the model of an Indonesian satay sauce.
Blue Plate's Achilles heel, an over-extended and sometimes overly ambitious menu, is also its greatest appeal. There's literally something for every taste, and on weekends large parties and families with multiple children crowd the sidewalk waiting for a table. For all the food's shortcomings, I wouldn't dismiss it on a Sunday morning if I had a full house of hungry, foggy-headed people to feed. The key is to find something you like and stick with it. I know one discriminating man who has eaten there three times and plans to return. He ordered the terrific pumpkin pancakes on his first visit and has never wavered. He is steadfast and resolved, and Blue Plate's pancakes reward him for it.