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[Cheap Eats]

Blue Plate Express
Down-home cooking
By Nancy Kalajian

on the cheap

Photographs of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong hang in a collage of musical artists along one wall of Blue Plate Express, welcoming customers into the efficient and appealing world of this new Arlington eatery. The Blue Plate offers down-home cooking at its very best: the chicken soup ($2.25 to $3.95) ó loaded with pasta, onions, thin chunks of celery and carrots, and chunks of char-grilled chicken in a lightly dill-infused, slightly salted broth ó could fill any grandmotherís prescription for good health. This version makes canned competitors cry out for help.

The six-ounce herb-grilled salmon fillet ($9.95) was fresh, and topped with a mellow dabbing of citrus-thyme butter. The caramelized balsamic chicken ($7.95), char-grilled to fork-cutting perfection, was a showstopper ó its tangy glaze should be bottled and top-shelved. Most dinners come with two sides. Itís hard to pick from the 14 entrancing choices, but the heavenly roasted-garlic mashed potatoes didnít disappoint ó they were the best tasting spuds Iíve had in years. The cinnamon-infused mashed squash was also delicious. Macaroni and cheese, another side, was perfect, reminding me of my momís classic version.

For dessert, go for the home-baked brownies. A huge triangle-shaped treat ($1.50), loaded with walnuts, was cut from its baking pan right in front of my eyes. On one evening, when I included a brownie in my take-out order, the soft, chewy delicacy almost didnít make it home, but Iím glad I waited for its soul mate ó a glass of milk ó to make it a dreamy nightcap. At least a few brownie varieties are available each day; choices include rich chocolate with dried cherries and the adult-flavored Kahlúa fudge.

On two visits, we never waited more than 10 minutes for our food from the time we gave our order. The restaurant specializes in take-out (hence the " Express " in its name), but customers who stay to eat can grab one of the few high black stools or chairs, directly facing a wall of reflective, Latin QuarterĖstyle framed photographs under blue cable lighting. If only Dizzy and Louis could join us.

Blue Plate Express is located at 315 Broadway, in Arlington Center, at the Mass Ave intersection. Look for the cobalt-blue sign. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Call (781) 646-4545.

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