Consistency may indeed be the hobgoblin of small minds, but it’s a nice quality in a restaurant. The tricky thing, though, is that it takes practice to achieve. The sleek new City State Diner has potential, and much of what it does is terrific, but it doesn’t do terrific consistently, at least not yet.
The diner occupies the former home of Wine Down on Northeast 28th Avenue. What was a sultry, maroon-shrouded MILF bar is now a bright, shiny, minimally decorated open space with a row of booths against one wall, window stools, a few tables and a lunch counter. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find a $5 shake, and you will find one here, and you’ll be happy you did. On one recent visit, a vanilla malt made the full-grown man in my booth do a happy little milkshake dance. If sooner or later everything on the menu reaches milkshake level, look out.
Several things are already there. A roasted beet salad ($9) with goat cheese and hazelnuts is damn near perfect, especially with the blackberry bacon dressing (bacon dressing!). The croque madame ($8) is a hearty slab of chewy, melty satisfaction: two perfect eggs over ham and Gruyère on a thick slice of bread from Portland French Bakery. Burgers ($7-$11) are also a win, partly because of the diner’s housemade ketchup, which tastes like no other ketchup I’ve ever encountered. It’s closer to a smooth chutney, or maybe applesauce, sweet and weird and delicious.
This magic ketchup also decorates City State’s best dinner entree, the garlic prosciutto meatloaf ($12). The two enormous bricks of meat look oppressively heavy on arrival, but they turn out to disappear from the plate with startling ease and rapidity. They come with a little skillet of cheesy scalloped potatoes and a stack of green beans.
So far so good; now for the not-terrific. The green beans are crispy but flavorless. The pork loin dinner, another pair of meat bricks, is almost tough and dry enough to test one’s stamina. (The garlic mashed potatoes with it are awesome.) Fries are good, but they cost $2.50 extra. Prosciutto Benedict ($10) comes with a vivid yellow hollandaise sauce that’s puckeringly tart, and the heap of prosciutto under the eggs pushes the salt level into heart-attack territory. The eggs themselves are perfect, although I worried when the server asked how I wanted them cooked. Aren’t eggs Benedict always poached? (She did later correct herself.)
Servers are unfailingly friendly, if inexperienced and oddly unfamiliar with the menu. But everyone’s clearly trying, and what the kitchen does right makes me inclined to wait patiently while they figure out the things that aren’t milkshake-perfect yet.Order this: Meatloaf dinner ($12), roasted beet salad ($9), house margarita ($6). Best deal: The croque madame ($8) is ultra-rich. I’ll pass: Eggs Benedict—the sub-par hollandaise sauce kills it.
EAT: City State Diner, 126 NE 28th Ave., 517-0347, citystatediner.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner 8 am-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.