Secret rendezvous 

Inside the oft-overlooked Orange Plate Café, excellent American fare enjoys a Korean kiss

You could easily miss the Orange Plate Café, located east of Powers Boulevard on Peterson Road and Palmer Park Boulevard. Tucked into a dated little strip-mall, pinched between a bar and a barbershop, it's barely noticeable — something manager Kari Torres knows all too well.

"People are always surprised when they pop in," she says, noting that if she could, she'd paint the building bright orange to broadcast the café's presence.

One foot inside, and you understand that appearance actually does matter to Torres and owner Ramona Burns. Immaculate ceramic-tiled floors match taupe walls dotted with historic images of brightly colored oranges. A dark blue ceiling highlights modern pin lighting fixtures; food arrives on large, brightly colored ceramic plates; and coffee comes in oversized mugs, which my husband appreciated.

In our breakfast visit, we found traditional and affordable fare. The Hungry Man ($6.99) included a hefty mound of hash browns, topped with homemade sausage gravy and melted cheddar cheese alongside two eggs any style. We added the fresh, locally sourced biscuits to round out the meal and a rich, filling and thoroughly satisfying start to the day.

It actually happened to be our 10th wedding anniversary, and Torres responded to that news by upping my three slices of French toast ($5.99) to five, all showered in powdered sugar with warm maple syrup on the side. Moist without being soggy, they were perfect alongside thick, large strips of perfectly crisp bacon ($2.49).

Size matters at Orange Plate, and the menu's full of dishes described as "heaping," "hearty" and "piled high." As far as the lunch hoagies go, they aren't bluffing.

Each sandwich comes with your choice of fries (sweet potato or russet), potato salad or chips. The fries come crisp, but do get soggy with take-out. The outfit also offers a soup of the day, which proved the only real disappointment. Though Burns touted her loaded baked potato soup's creaminess, I found it a bit runny. At least the cheese, green onion and bacon on top aided the flavor.

The Trio Club ($6.99) of ham, turkey and bacon with thick slices of cheddar cheese, sliced romaine lettuce and thin-sliced tomato arrived so large it appeared almost open-faced. Mayo and Dijon moistened the spongy hoagie bread for an overall great sandwich. The "loaded" BLT ($6.99) proved a bit of hog heaven on a bun, thanks again to a generous portion of the thick, crisp bacon.

Burns, a native of Korea, is testing the waters with her cleverly conceived Bulgogi Hoagie ($7.49). In the Korean staple, strips of beef are marinated in soy, sugar, sesame oil and garlic then sautéed with veggies like sweet red onion and mushrooms; here, Burns tops that mix with melted Provolone. It's deliciously juicy, but messy — I quickly resorted to using a fork. Though fun, I couldn't help but wish it was served over a bowl of steaming rice instead of the bread, which got too soggy. (That said, if you love a French dip, you won't mind.)

Torres says if the Bulgogi Hoagie is well-received, more Korean-style dishes will likely appear. The move would certainly help make the neighborhood eatery stand out, in a way that hefty portions, an ice cream happy hour (99-cent scoops from 2 to 4 p.m.) and even bright orange paint can't.



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