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Jason Perlow

Salad Bars

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Yesterday we had over 90 degree weather in Northern New Jersey, and Rachel and I were thinking about getting something refreshing for dinner -- a nice salad bar sounded like it would do the trick.

Unfortunately, we came up empty. Other than Charlie Brown's, we couldn't figure out where to get a decent salad bar that had nice fresh produce and toppings.

Salad Bars were all the rage in the 80's and early 90's. What happened to them?

Which cities with what restaurants have the best salad bar options?


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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In Chicago one of the best salad bars I have seen is at Fogo de Chao a Brazilian churrascaria. Even though it is a place that is filled with men walking around in gauchos with meat on a stick, I've had many vegetarian friends go there and have a great meal at the salad bar. Other than that, I can't remember the last salad bar I've seen.


I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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it isn't in a restaurant, but a salad bar i used to love was in a market/food court in newport beach, california. a shopping mall called fashion island (fascist island). it was huge, had a great selection and decent atmosphere (you could sit outside).

other than that, most salad bars in restaurants seem to be in the chain type places that supposedly have "home cooked" type food. the options are usually iceberg, grated dried out carrots and bad croutons. even places that are all salad bar like soup plantation or fresh choice are terrible. it is depressing because sometimes you just want a nice salad with a lot of choices that you don't have at home.

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In Chicago one of the best salad bars I have seen is at Fogo de Chao a Brazilian churrascaria.  Even though it is a place that is filled with men walking around in gauchos with meat on a stick, I've had many vegetarian friends go there and have a great meal at the salad bar.  Other than that, I can't remember the last salad bar I've seen.

I've heard Fogo de Chão's Salad Bar is very impressive. I'll be sure to try it next week when I'm in Chicago.

Churrascarias do tend to have really good salad bars, but you have to usually spend full Rodizio prices to eat at them. We have quite a number of them in Newark, but I'm not paying $25 per person to eat salad!


Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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About the only salad bar remaining here that I know of is at the Wild Oats grocery store. All the Wendy's did away with the things a long time ago.


It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Nah, the dodo's gone for good. Salad bars will have a resurgence in America as soon as we pull our heads out of our collective asses with regards to food safety and reasonable risk.

[makes mental note to kick a lawyer on the way home]


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Around these parts (Virginia,) I know of only a couple of salad bars (other than a few that are part of Sunday brunches.) There is a natural foods store in Richmond (Ellwood Thompson) that has one. The local "upscale" grocery store, Ukrops, provides decent salad (and fruit, and side dish, and olive) bars in their stores. And then there's Ruby Tuesday. A chain, of course, but I'll admit to stopping by on more than one occasion with my Mom when I'm out in Richmond shopping. They have several types of greens and lots of different toppings -- I like the fact that they have fava beans, bleu cheese crumbles, several types of mushrooms, and dried cranberries. My only real complaint is that they have a puny selection of dressings, none of which is interesting or even very good. But it's not a bad lunch-on-the-go, when I'm not down toward Cary Street and don't want to patronize Ukrops (which I avoid at all costs.)

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There is a chain called Sweet Tomatoes that has an outlet in St. Charles, Il. that is very good. They offer a number of kinds of lettuces as well as some prepared salads (Greek, etc.). The add ons cover a pretty wide variety of things and all is kept very fresh looking and nicely cut. They also have baked potatoes, pasta and usually 6 soups.

http://www.sweettomatoes.com/

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Although it's a big chain, Jason's Deli has a nice salad bar. They have nice lettuces, good veggies, some good slaws and pasta salads, and good dressing options. It's a good place to go for a cup of soup and a salad. It's certainly not four star cuisine, but does the trick on a hot day, or if you just feel the need to load up on veggies.

The Whole Foods salad bar is also nice, but because they charge by weight it can get expensive if you're not careful. I once let this fact fly out of my head, loaded up my salad with lots of dolmas, and ended up paying $12 for one salad! I felt like an idiot. (But the dolmas were good.)


-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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As Sunny Simmons Steincamp mentioned, Ruby Tuesday has a reliable salad bar at every outpost. (There's one in the Garden State Plaza in Paramus). We utilize Ruby Tuesday plenty when we're on road trips. You can get just the salad bar, or you can get it in combination with a baked potato, a soup or any of the entrees for a pretty small upcharge.

In my opinion, however, the best salad bars are at Souplantation. This place is amazing in terms of selection, quality and value. Were I a vegetarian, I'd have to live near one. Unfortunately the chain has not penetrated the Northeast. It's concentrated primarily in California, and also in Florida and a few other states where it's branded as (mentioned above) Sweet Tomatoes -- even though Souplantation is a much better name.

http://www.soupplantation.com/


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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How funny. My husband and I were just having this same conversation.

The last salad bar that I encountered was at a place called The Amish Door and that was deep in... you guessed it... Ohio's Amish Country. It was really very good but I'm not gonna drive 60 miles into horse-and-buggy territory for a salad bar. The local groceries don't seem to have them either. I mean, every restaurant has jumped on the "big salad" bandwagon, but sometimes I want my own signature blend, ya know? Maybe I want a big spoonful of Jello with my salad. No one I know is offering a "Big Salad & Jello" combo.

Seriously... I'd give my right arm for a Souplantation right about now.

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Seriously... I'd give my right arm for a Souplantation right about now

As would I. I think New Jersey diners must have serious issues with eating salads, because short of Ruby Tuesday and Charlie Browns, we don't have that many options.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Yes, I'd have to agree about the salad bars at any fancy churrascaria,

the salad bar looms as a focal point in the center of the room. And it offers a panoply of premium goodies:  balls of fresh mozzarella, hearts of palm, asparagus spears (huge), jumbo stuffed olices, whole roasted peppers, cheeses, artichoke hearts, smoked salmon. It beats the Fogo de Chão salad bar in some ways, with better prosciutto and chunks of parmigiano reggiano served from the hollowed-out rind.
local Argentinian churrascaria: Boi Ne Braza

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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In my opinion, however, the best salad bars are at Souplantation. This place is amazing in terms of selection, quality and value. Were I a vegetarian, I'd have to live near one. Unfortunately the chain has not penetrated the Northeast. It's concentrated primarily in California, and also in Florida and a few other states where it's branded as (mentioned above) Sweet Tomatoes -- even though Souplantation is a much better name.

http://www.soupplantation.com/

I second the Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes recommendation. They spoiled me as far as salad bars go. There's always a line out the door during their peak times.

My sister-in-law used to take an empty foil-lined purse when she and my brother went to the Souplanation so she could take some of the muffins home (they used to have huge muffins and now they're comparatively dinky). I love their tart sourdough bread.

There's also the Fresh Choice chain which is here in Central California but I haven't seen any in San Diego (I see by their web site they're located mostly in California, with some in Texas and one in Washington).

I much prefer Souplantation.

edited to add we have a locally owned salad bar restaurant called the Garden Spot that does brisk business but doesn't offer quite as much as a Souplantation salad bar.


Edited by Toliver (log)

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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We're down to one chain out here. Soup Exchange lost, Souplantation rules the roost (aka Sweet Tomatoes). Big, inexpensive. See review above (by LikestoEatout [and a buncha others]).

The Chart House (down town water front) has a decent salad bar too, housed in an old wooden rowing four, another fad from the 80's.

editted to add (and correct a spelling)

Gotta learn to 'refresh' screen before posting.


Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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In my opinion, however, the best salad bars are at Souplantation. This place is amazing in terms of selection, quality and value. Were I a vegetarian, I'd have to live near one. Unfortunately the chain has not penetrated the Northeast. It's concentrated primarily in California, and also in Florida and a few other states where it's branded as (mentioned above) Sweet Tomatoes -- even though Souplantation is a much better name.http://www.soupplantation.com/

I second the Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes recommendation. They spoiled me as far as salad bars go. There's always a line out the door during their peak times.

My sister-in-law used to take an empty foil-lined purse when she and my brother went to the Souplanation so she could take some of the muffins home (they used to have huge muffins and now they're comparatively dinky). I love their tart sourdough bread.

Myself, I confess to being very disenchanted with Souplantation. Yeah, they have lots and lots of salad-fixin' choices, and they look really fresh ... but I find the veggies' flavor to be lacking--makes me suspect that they're using mass quantities of pre-cut veggies delivered either by their own commissary or Sysco. And while there are lots of choices, on closer inspection the choices are rather pedestrian. Broccoli florets--yawn; no mesclun in sight. Meanwhile, their pre-made salads tend to be gunked up with overly cloying-sweet dressings, one of my personal huge bugaboos. And many of the dressings available for ladling over your green salad have the same problem--though at least they have oils and vinegars available for you to mix your own. Maybe I am jaded because I eat so much vegetation these days ... nah, I think I found Souplantation boring even before I went on the almighty health regimen and would freely indulge in their pasta bar (which, in hindsight, was pretty damn pedestrian too).

I've actually had better luck with salad bars that are incorporated into Asian buffet restaurants. Admittedly, the quality of the buffet overall is reflected in the quality of their salad offerings, but the good ones will not only have reasonably fresh and well-stocked salad bars, but also include some items unique to the Asian-buffet universe (like big peel-your-own shrimp, mussels on the half shell, interesting--and spicy!--seafood salads, kumquats, etc. etc. etc.). Local to San Diego, I would recommend Great Moon, Sunrise, and East Buffets for their salad bars as well as the rest of their offerings.

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Sooper Salad is in various states in the SW and SE. There are several around here. It's okay - pretty big salad bar with all the usual things; the hot bar is pretty lacking - their "pizza" is tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni on a tortilla. About ten years ago there used to be several other salad bar chains, but they've all closed.

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Does it have to be a "restaurant"? How about taking out salad from Whole Foods's salad bar. Or are we anti-Whole Foods now?

I may be- I can't quite decide.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Come to think of it, Claim Jumper has a small salad bar as does Home Town Buffet (never thought I mention those two restaurants in the same sentence! :laugh: ).


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Here in Atlanta we have a clear winner: the catchy name aside, Lettuce Souprise You is more than a mere gimmick. The family-style restaurant offers a vast salad bar with three types of lettuce, a couple dozen veggies to add in, and even some pre-made salads. If that isn't enough for you, the restaurant offers a hot bar option which boasts soups, pastas, a baked potato bar, and unlimited muffins and dessert. There are four soups offered daily, but they rotate through,... the pastas and sauces, a baked potato with all of the fixings .. then there's the muffins. Lettuce Souprise You is famous for its chocolate-chip muffins... the equally delicious cranberry muffins. Their dessert bar includes fruit and a make-your-own-strawberry-shortcake option! :wink:


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Here in Atlanta we have a clear winner: The catchy name aside, Lettuce Souprise You is more than a gimmick.  The family-style restaurant offers a vast salad bar with three types of lettuce, a couple dozen veggies to add in, and even some pre-made salads.  If that isn't enough for you, the restaurant offers a hot bar option which boasts soups, pastas, a baked potato bar, and unlimited muffins and dessert.  There are four soups offered daily, but they rotate through,... the pastas and sauces, a baked potato with all of the fixings .. then there's the muffins.  Lettuce Souprise You is famous for its chocolate-chip muffins... the equally delicious cranberry.  Their dessert bar includes fruit and a make-your-own-strawberry-shortcake option! :wink:

Mmmm... Yes, please!!

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Here in Atlanta we have a clear winner: the catchy name aside, Lettuce Souprise You is more than a mere gimmick.  The family-style restaurant offers a vast salad bar with three types of lettuce, a couple dozen veggies to add in, and even some pre-made salads.  If that isn't enough for you, the restaurant offers a hot bar option which boasts soups, pastas, a baked potato bar, and unlimited muffins and dessert.  There are four soups offered daily, but they rotate through,... the pastas and sauces, a baked potato with all of the fixings .. then there's the muffins.  Lettuce Souprise You is famous for its chocolate-chip muffins... the equally delicious cranberry muffins.  Their dessert bar includes fruit and a make-your-own-strawberry-shortcake option! :wink:

That's almost exactly what Souplantation offers, from the baked potatoes to the soups to the pasta bar. Here's a menu sample:

Souplantation Menu (scroll down)

They also have monthly specials. The month of June they featured all things Lemon. Click on the link in Fat Guy's post and then click on the graphic with the date on it for this month's specials.

The nice thing about these kind of salad bars is that you can choose to eat as healthy as you want. Or not. :wink::laugh:


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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having grown up in california and even worked at one, there is the chain Fresh Choice. fresh choice is a salad bar, but they also have soups and desserts (muffins and whatnot). and in college in texas, there was another chain called Souper Salad. much like fresh choice above. But, when I moved out to D.C., there was no salad bar, like the two listed above. while i generally don't eat salad, i always missed having the option- cause on the random occasions where i feel like a salad, those places have satisfied that need.

and it helps that it's all you can eat.

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