Salad Is More Sexy Than Ever
Salad was once kind of a downer food, rendered somehow “un-fun” because of its association with dieting, calorie restriction, and deprivation. Popular rhetoric suggested that leafy greens and other vegetable preparations were what you ate as an alternative to the food you really wanted to eat, not because they could be delicious unto themselves.
In 2017, however, our nation’s increasing emphasis on Farm-to-Table eating and accessibility with respect to fresh ingredients have made salad the main event at mealtime– kale salads adorn chic restaurant menus and are just as Instagram-able as the icecream served at dessert; brussel sprouts and beets, both once revered as a picky-eater’s nightmare, are now among the most sought-after ingredients.
A host of cookbooks have come out in recent years glorifying what was once simply an appetizer before the meal, including Julia Sherman’s recent Salad For President, a cookbook inspired by artists whose beautiful portraits, Bon Appetit noted, “belong in an art gallery”. Juice bars brought in salads due to popular demand for vegetables. Vegetarian restaurants became cool even to omnivores. Salad, moreover, has become a celebrated entree, rather than the begrudged preamble to it. And salad bars, it turns out, are no longer lame. Here are seven new salad bars redefining “fast food”:
Sweetgreen is a forerunner in the bespoke salad game, with branches across America in cities like New York, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and more. Founded in 2007 (long before local, seasonal salad bars took off) the company sources locally-sourced produce from a transparent supply network, allowing people to build their own salads from various greens and grains, seasonal vegetables, and everything from local cheeses to vegan-friendly proteins. All of their dressings– from creamy horseradish to lime cilantro jalapeño vinagrette– are gluten-free and made in house. In 2015, Sweetgreen also collaborated with Dan Barber’s sustainability project WastED to design a salad made from the veggie scraps that often get thrown out during culinary prep.
Like Sweetgreen, Chopt Creative Salad Company offers make-your-own salads in a fast-casual environment, but the company’s real claim to fame is their rotating collection of creative, bespoke salads centered around various themes. Currently, Chopt is offering a food tour of the Pacific Northwest, including limited-time offering like the Beekeeper’s Quinoa Bowl (tri-color quinoa, aged Tillamook cheddar, roasted chickpeas, Mama Lil’s spicy peppers, rainbow cauliflower, kale, broccoleaf & purple cabbage, topped with bee pollen and wildflower honey dijon) and Crunchy Vietnamese Salad (FreeBird grilled chicken, crispy rice crackers, pickled sweet onions, rainbow carrots, English cucumbers, romaine, kale, purple cabbage & cilantro).
California favorite Tender Greens has location across Los Angeles, Orange County, the Bay Area, and San Diego, with an emphasis not only on using produce from farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, but serving it in eco-containers. The Tender Greens Cookbook (a compilation of their kitchen’s best recipes) includes interesting, vegetable-forward finds like Savory Quinoa, Chard, and Feta muffins.
The name cuts right to the point– Just Salad serves salad, and they also offer reusable bowls! Known for their iconic buffalo chicken salad and their speedy choppers (most bespoke salad bars in urban environments have long lines that lunchtime, but Just Salad gets people through in a matter of minutes), Just Salad also offers grass-fed beef, sustainable seafood, and antibiotic-free chicken. (They also recently introduced avocado toast boxes.)
Hale & Hearty
Hale and Hearty is a stalwart chain among New Yorkers who tend towards soup, salad, and sandwich combos at lunchtime. Known for their hearty, homemade soups, they also offer a “You Pick Five” make-your-own salad option, which offers the perfect compliment of fresh, crunchy produce to go with any hot dish (come for the soup, stay for the salad).
If the line at Good Seed‘s recently-opened W. 35th street location is any indication of the salad craze in New York, then high-end, make-your-own salads are more popular than ever. Good Seed’s “Invent A Salad” option is favored over pre-fab salad combinations, as the salad bar’s fresh, modern, foodie concepts– like warm, pre-cooked root vegetable mix, goat cheese, homemade focaccia, and wild-caught salmon ensure that ingredients are not only of the highest quality, but tailored to the modern palette.
Fresh & Co
Fresh & Co‘s emphasis on offering organic, local produce makes it an ideal spot for a fast meal on the go in New York City. In addition to salad the company offers everything from cold-pressed juices to soups and grain bowls, with ingredients that come from farms in the Hudson Valley and Long Island. Last year, Fresh & Co also donated over $60,000 in scholarship funds to Food & Finance High School, a New York-based institution aimed at building the next generation of sustainability-minded culinary leaders.
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