A much diminished breakfast club met this morning at the Highland Grill in St. Paul. We miss Beau and Rachael, who had a lovely wedding and then fled west for Beau's first week of school, but we soldier on, because life must go on, and we still need to eat, even without our loved ones.
It was a late meeting, because I joined a running club this morning (which met in the coffee shop next door at 9:00), so our ordering was erratic enough to draw comment from our waitress ("Who are these people?"). Jimmy got hangar steak and baked beans; Judy dithered and then ordered strawberry shortcake; Fern had a turkey burger (after making dark remarks about not-ordering the breakfast burrito); and I had the only true breakfast in the crowd: the special Caprese scramble which comes with hash browns.
Now, our family has eaten at these Blue Plate restaurants before. Locals love this chain. The food is acceptable. The atmosphere is more interesting than a Perkins. There's kind of an industrial edge to the decor, with exposed ductwork and diner-style furniture. You can tell you've walked into a Blue Plate restaurant because instead of napkins they give you a big lap towel (which can come in handy on hot summer mornings when the air conditioner is going full blast). They also have mildly amusing t-shirts ("Etch-a-sketch for the kids. Beer and wine for the grown-ups."). I guess the best way to describe the food and atmosphere is "inoffensive". You aren't going to have anything too innovative here, but it will be comforting food with good ingredients, and the portions will be big. I must confess some bias against the whole chain mostly because of the sweet potato fries. They are soggy. Gloppy, even. You have to pay a dollar more to substitute them in for regular fries (which are crispy and good), so my advice, if you have a hankering for sweet potato fries, is to head on over to the Herkimer, where they are skinny, crispy and addictive. And don't tell me how good these Blue Plate sweet potato fries are until you have. I mean, I guess, unless you like soggy fries, which is possible, but I don't get it.
Which actually brings us to the representative quote about today's breakfast. It came from Judy who raved about her strawberry shortcake. She loved the scone base and the fact that the strawberry juice hadn't soaked into it, so it wasn't soggy. Well, I took one bite and put down my fork. The scone was so dry it tasted like sawdust to me. I needed water in order to swallow it. When I complained, Judy said, "Well, one person's perfect is another person's nasty, I guess."
She, in fact, didn't really like my eggs, but I enjoyed them quite a bit. I liked the whole basil leaves and the chunks of fresh mozzarella. The bits of tomatoes soaked in balsamic vinegar provided a nice sweet-and-sour touch. The hash browns looked better than they were, however, because only the outer layer was crispy.
Fern's turkey burger won some sort of Twin Cities best-burger award, and it sounded flavorful because it was packed with garlic, onions, and jalapeños, but she said it wasn't as rich as it sounded. She declared that no reputable best-burger award should go to any turkey burger. Burgers should be beef, damn it. Still, she said she'd go back and get a real burger there sometime, because the bun was good, and the (regular potato) fries were delicious.
Jimmy's comments mostly regarded service, which he deemed too slow even for a crowded morning. Our waitress did vanish for a longer than necessary period between menu drop-off and ordering. His steak looked good to me, but it was a little early in the morning for me to be thinking baked beans.
And so our family's ambivalence about Blue Plate restaurants continues. They do some things well. They just don't seem to deserve the devotion they get from the locals. Oh, well, what can you do? The more people eat at all these Blank Grills, the more tables we'll find at our own personal favorite spots.