By: Jay Dalles
May is National Salad Month. So why not drive in the direction of freshness and originality with a staying power that is legendary. All of these salads are standouts and keep the customers coming back again and again. They have gone far—most of them—from their original locations. But what a treat to taste them where it all began.
Waldorf Salad (New York City)
A visit to New York City is not complete without stopping at the timelessly glamorous Waldorf-Astoria for a pick-me-up of some kind or other. Since it is National Salad Month, what better than the justly famous Waldorf Salad? The ingredients are a masterpiece of crisp apples, crunchy celery and savory walnuts, swathed in mayonnaise, and served on a bed of lettuce. Some date the Waldorf Salad’s invention to 1893 and some to 1896, but either way, here is a salad that has stood the taste test of time. Legend has it that the Waldorf Salad was created when chef Oscar Tschirky found himself short on supplies at short notice, and in a flash of genius, whipped up this miracle of a salad which has been pleasing the most persnickety of diners for more than a century. Just steps from your meal at the Waldorf-Astoria are St Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, and Rockefeller Center, so stroll before or after you enjoy this culinary classic. In fact, New York abounds in other sites not to be missed, so many that we say, simply, see the whole town right from Yonkers on down to the Bay… (thank you Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Leonard Bernstein).
Caesar Salad AKA Aviator Salad (Coronado Island)
Let’s all admit that we love Caesar Salad and if we do then we are more than half way there, to Coronado Island where it all began. Coronado is the home of the US Naval Air Station. Those pilots were hungry guys; when they wanted a meal they wanted it fast. The ingredients to their happiness were romaine lettuce leaves, lemon juice, olive oil, Worcester sauce, parmesan cheese, and anchovies. Sheer heaven! Two brothers, one north and one south of the border claim to have started the Caesar’s fame, in order to oblige. Caesar Cardini gets the main credit, thus the name recognition, but his brother Alex gets the nod for Aviator’s Salad (same salad, minus the anchovies). We love them both and will not quibble but keep in all in the family, who say it all began on the Fourth of July in 1924 during the customer “rush”. Again, necessity was the mother of invention and we are the better for it. Wallis Simpson served it, both in Southern California and in London, where her American cooking wowed ‘em, most especially what she cooked up for the Prince of Wales, soon to be her husband. From 1938 till the early 1990s the place to enjoy this salad at its most authentic was ”La Avinada” at Orange and B Streets, with its Spanish revival architecture and colorful murals, no longer there. So select from the many other Coronado restaurants, including Vigilucci’s Ristorante, the Crown City Inn & Bistro and the jaw dropping gorgeous Crown Room at the Del Coronado. Tradition says to serve the salad with the leaves of romaine long, arranged on the plate with the stems facing out, so you may pick it up with your fingers – salad as finger food, who knew! While on Coronado Island take the walking tour to see where L. Frank Baum the creator of the Wizard of Oz lived, and be sure to stroll out on the beach in front of The Del and have your picture taken just where Marilyn stood for her role in “Some Like it Hot”!
Pittsburgh Pub Salad (Pittsburgh)
Every restaurant in Pittsburgh serves it, from Eat N Park (“The Place for Smiles”) to elite country clubs you cannot get into unless you are invited by a member. They will probably call it steak salad or chicken salad, which it is and both versions are correct. But in Pittsburgh the secret to the salad is this: a great tossed salad, iceberg lettuce predominating, with grilled chicken or grilled steak and the piece de résistance, French fries. Shocking? Perhaps. But think about how many salads boast croutons and you will see that fries are not much of a stretch. You could make your own version just about anywhere, by ordering a grilled chicken salad and then adding a side of fries. But better yet, go to the ‘Burgh and have an original. Among the recommended restaurants where you will taste it at its best are: The Grandview Saloon on Mt. Washington (with the best views in town), Primanti Brothers (any location but The Strip District is best), and the already mentioned Eat N Park (also any location). While in Pittsburgh you have to see the dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum, the Warhols at the Warhol Museum, and ride the Incline up Mt. Washington. No matter where you enjoy your salad, finish off your meal with the other ubiquitous Pittsburgh menu item—a treat on the dessert menu—a Pecan Ball. Vanilla ice cream shaped into a large snowball shape, rolled in chopped pecans and covered in hot fudge. Oh my!
Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad® (Tampa)
This salad from the Columbia Restaurant is wowza wowza. The name gives its origins away, that is indeed when it began and the where is Ybor City the charming old Latin Quarter neighborhood of Tampa. The restaurant itself is “Florida’s Oldest Restaurant”, a landmark of old Spanish Revival architecture, beautiful art tiles and a series of rooms with photos of the Hernandez Gonzmart family, who have owned and operated this restaurant for more than a century. You can stroll Centro Ybor and watch as cigars are handmade as they have been since the 1905 salad was brand new. Or you can visit one of the other Columbia restaurants in these remarkable locations: the new planned town of Celebration, the oldest city in the Unites States St Augustine, or out on the mod pier at St Petersburg where you can watch the planes take off and land while you dine. From the Atlantic to the Gulf, the Columbia and their 1905 Salad, with its iceberg lettuce, tomato, ham, Swiss cheese, and olives in a Worchester and parmesan dressing, are a mid-Florida tradition. We have dined at all of the Columbia locations, and never pass up a chance to enjoy this remarkable and delicious original.
Portillo’s Chopped Salad (Chicago)
Ask any native Chicagoan what the most famous salad in town is, and they will point you to Portillo’s, a hot dog chain begun by Dick Portillo in a trailer in 1963. Try the downtown location at 100 W Ontario Street or any of their branch locations. Yes, they have some of the best hot dogs anywhere, but this is National Salad Month, and it is fair to say that some of their most loyal customers have never tasted even one. Instead they go right for the chopped salad that is a unique blend of romaine and iceberg lettuce, red and green onions, red cabbage, chicken breast, and special treats such as ditalini pasta, bacon and gorgonzola cheese. It is a true chopped salad which means that every fork full is ready to enjoy without any wrestling with the salad ingredients. A vinaigrette dressing with (we are told) oregano blends it all together. One of the gustatory wonders of the Windy City, Portillo’s Chopped Salad is on the menu at all of their satellite locations, and just as delicious. While in Chicago why not do your own version of Ferris Bueller’s day off, and see the sights that he enjoyed, take a water tour of the city via the Chicago River, or head out to Oak Park and be bowled over by the Frank Lloyd Wright houses there.
For National Salad Month we also thought of Taco Salad (quite possibly a 1960s Taco Bell invention), the Wedge Salad (dating back at least to the 1920s), Wilted Lettuce Salad (a Pennsylvania Dutch delight that predates 1900) and Seven Layer Salad (a mid-century sensation claimed by the Olde South and by the Midwest), as well worth a drive, but research is ongoing as to just where they made their debuts. When we know more, we will be glad to share! Happy eating as you #drivethenation!