Serious Eats: Drinks
Destination-Worthy Milkshakes: Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain, Portland, OR
You know the phenomenon: a certain Food Network personality visits your local hole-in-the-wall eatery, spray paints his likeness on the ceiling, and the ensuing popularity is enough to make you hate the place you once loved.
This happened to Portland's Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain. But fortunately, enough time has passed that the aroma of his peroxide-stained locks has left the building, and one can again casually procure a delicious milkshake without fighting off the tourist crowds. When you walk in to Blueplate nowadays, you're transported to a homey setting like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The sunlight from the giant arched entryway illuminates the countless candy jars and reflects from the stainless steel milkshake machine, bringing to life a hidden treasure trove of modestly made sweet treats.
Housemade sodas and floats are great at the 'plate, but shakes are star. Chief among them is the R.P. McMurphy, named for one of Oregon's most celebrated fictional anti-heroes, and fittingly enough, full of nuts.
The McMurphy's silky base is vanilla with a hint of butterscotch. The milk-to-ice cream ratio was righteous, mostly drinkable with slurp-stopping mounds scattered throughout. The crunch of honey roasted peanuts and candied cashews permeated the entire shake adding body and contrast, as did the flavorful-yet-light clusters of vanilla-kissed granola. A swirl of yellow butterscotch syrup on the crown of whipped cream added appropriate whimsy.
The best part of this shake was in settles into the bottom of the glass: a bounty of candied nuts and granola drenched in melted ice cream, like the best possible Saturday morning cereal.
The 44th claimed to be the menu's "healthy" option—you'll agree if you're the type who thinks green M&M's count as vegetables. It starts with nuclear-green pistachio ice cream and swirls in almond and pistachio bits. The simplistic crunch and marzipan finish were satisfying, but the nuts overall were bland in comparison to the honey-roasted, candy-coated nuts in the McMurphy.
Blueplate's famous-from-TV hibiscus soda syrup plays a key role in their P. R. Nelson shake. In addition to the tart floral tincture (made with the addition of star anise and allspice), the drink contained a wonderful huckleberry ice cream. The combination of the two was reminiscent of homemade jam; the huckleberries were bold and flavorful but not super-sweet. A milkshake with a tangy, tart finish was new to me, but was deeply satisfying. Future revisiting of the Nelson may include a touch of contraband bourbon from a smuggled flask.
Their shakes seem like a bargain these days at $4 a pop, and the portion was filling without entering pig-out territory. Blueplate also offers an extensive menu of create-your-own shake choices, with normal options (caramel, strawberries, malt) as well as more eccentric ones (Stumptown cowboy coffee and chai syrup). All shakes come standard with three scoops of locally-made Cascade Glacier ice cream and are served in traditional soda fountain glassware.