It’s time to hit the bar. That is, if you can find one. I’m talking about the salad bar. Yes, the holiday pounds have caught up with me just like they do every season, but this year I really promise to lose the new ones and get rid of the old ones. Of course, salad comes to mind as an effective dieting tool that can at least trick me into believing I’m making some sort of health progress.
But have you noticed there really aren’t very many salad bars these days? I remember a long time ago when any fast-food chain worth its sodium had a salad bar. Almost overnight, burger joints, roast beef vendors, taco huts and crappy steakhouses all jumped on the salad bar bandwagon. There were single trips and all-you-can-eat versions that took salad eating to a new level.
There was always a discussion about town when a new salad bar hit the scene and how much better it was than the last sneeze guard you peered through. This one had baked potatoes! Don’t confuse the sour cream with the Cool Whip. Chickpeas became garbanzo beans, no person touched the beets and the bacon bits contained no bacon at all.
Suddenly, after years of eating normal salads of lettuce, tomato, red onion and dressing, we were designing our own with mounds of pineapple and enough sunflower seeds to feed a Little League team for nine innings.
It was a new frontier for the vegetable world, one that introduced many of us to excess. It didn’t matter how many trips you made because it was salad. “What did you have for dinner last night?” “Oh, just a salad.” And you would say that with a clear conscience because, truthfully, you’d eaten everything in salad form in a salad bowl from a salad bar. You failed to mention it was 1,600 calories.
With power comes responsibility and it was hard to not indulge in multiple trips. Maybe that’s the reason the salad bar has become all but extinct. There are only a few left, but I still appreciate them and know that I must show them respect.
Jason’s Deli has a fine example of a salad bar. They have amazing sandwiches but are known for their veggies. The Original Oyster House had a pretty rocking bar the last time I visited. Ruby Tuesday also has one I wouldn’t turn my nose up to. For a chain restaurant I will say they do the lettuce and such right, but the two nearest to me closed down a few years back. So aside from the occasional Pizza Hut there aren’t very many salad bars left.
It’s a sad time for the salad bar. Think of the companies that make the ladles with words like “Ranch” or “House” or “Ranch House” on the handles. Those guys must be suffering. The Captain’s Wafer industry has taken a nosedive in recent years. So has the production of beets. But the good news is that there are several places in town that are serving up really good salads.
Just about everyone has a decent salad. I’m only going to rattle off a few that I enjoy. Don’t get upset if I didn’t include your favorites. I can only handle so much romaine and spring mix.
The Royal Scam has a baby greens salad with toasted almonds and apples with amazing orange basil dressing, but their Asian noodle salad is the way to go. Thinly sliced cabbage is the salad part, but if you are allergic to peanuts stay away. The soy lime dressing really makes this. Scam’s sister restaurant Heroes has a spinach salad that can be purchased with a slab of tuna atop. I recommend you try that.
For Caesar salad, your best bet may be 219. That corner of Joachim and Conti has the best dressing I’ve found. A close second is a couple of blocks away at Pizzeria Delfina. They also have a fantastic chicken salad salad.
Wintzell’s has a spicy blackened shrimp salad with mixed greens, grape tomatoes, red onions and homemade croutons. It’s a very “normal” salad that packs a punch.
You probably don’t think of Moe’s Original BBQ as a salad destination, but I’m saying it is. Their $10 version is topped with bacon crumbles, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, toasted spiced pecans, red onions, cucumbers and a drizzle of Alabama white sauce. Of course it comes with your choice of pork, chicken, turkey, fried shrimp, catfish or chicken fingers and a slab of cornbread. Don’t take this one lightly.
Across the street from Moe’s, the OK Bicycle Shop has a house salad with amazing dressing, but I confess I cannot stick to just a salad in a place that serves tacos and sushi.
Moving out of downtown, we have Mellow Mushroom. The Enlightened Spinach Salad outshines their pizza in my book. With dried cherries, apples and homemade candied pecans with feta cheese, you can see why.
If it’s volume, options and quality you want, look no further than Newk’s. First off, the salads are humongous. Secondly, they are very good. Third, there are so many options and dressings they are bound to please everyone on the hunt. Newk’s is the kind of place I go to when I want a salad but have no idea what I’m in the mood for.
PDQ is one to remember. I reviewed them a few weeks ago and all of their salads are fine. Start with the crispy chicken to get an idea of what made them famous. They have almost as many dressings as they do dipping sauces. Check out the blueberry coleslaw. That’s a salad in my book.
For a taco salad, the first that comes to mind is Butch Cassidy’s. It’s in the giant edible tortilla bowl and is exactly what you want it to be. But I gravitate toward the grilled shrimp salad. It has a lot of iceberg, loads of shrimp, boiled egg and tomato. I’m a blue cheese man, but this one begs for straight ranch.
I can feel the pounds melting off me. Happy 2017.