Spring is salad season, a time when green is as desirable on the plate as it is on the lawn. But ask several different people which kind of greens they prefer, and what other colors and flavors they like to add to dress up those greens, and you’ll probably get several different answers.
And greens themselves are evolving, with toppings become ever trendier, making an old-standby salad bar a fresh new experience these days.
Herb and Tracey Spencer of Swoyersville like the bar Wegmans has to offer. Tracey, 42, especially likes the vegetarian salad station at the Scranton location. But some days, she’ll try something different at the Wilkes-Barre Township store, which is where she was on Friday, selecting some hot food from the Homestyle bar near the salad bar.
“This is my cheat day,” she said as she selected meatballs and other heated foods before adding some salad items.
Herb, 47, said he finds the Homestyle bar, with its stuffed shells, pierogies, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and various pasta salads, more appealing than the adjacent Asian food bar.
He said it appeals to all nationalities.
“The United States is the melting pot; Wegmans is the melting pot of everybody,” Herb Spencer said. “I could be Polish and German with the same container.”
When it comes to actual salad greens, though, the melting pot might get even more interesting. Arcadian harvest, otherwise known as field mix, leafy Romaine and traditional, crunchy iceberg lettuce join cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli alongside fresh fruit, such as cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries and grapes. And cooked items, such as chicken, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, asparagus and broccoli, also add to the appeal.
“There are 32 items — 42 with the homestyle bar,” said Dennis Dorney, chef for Wegmans Market Cafe in the Wilkes-Barre Township store.
The most popular item, said Michael Zorn, team leader for prepared foods at the store, is the cored iceberg lettuce with toppings and dressing inside, such as bacon bits and ranch dressing.
There are other favorites. They’re the items in the bins store employees have to refill the most.
“Aside from the lettuces, I would say chicken, cantaloupe, mixed fruit salad …” Zorn said.
And the fruit will become even more popular as the weather gets warmer.
But is it all healthy?
Zorn said most items on the salad bar are, but the cheeses and dressings contain the most calories.
Choices, choices, choices
Gerrity’s Supermarkets, particularly the Hanover Township location, are home to other highly heralded salad bars, which offer about 50 items, including ready-to-eat Caesar salad and separate containers of mixed meat, cheese, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and taco shells.
“They can even make their own taco salad if they want,” store manager John Zionce said.
But this time of year, just like elsewhere, another item is about to take center stage.
“Now, obviously, we’re going to go into the fresh-cut fruit.”
Strawberries, cut pineapple and grapes are about to come out of hiding.
The Gerrity’s salad bar, which already offers a variety of greens and veggies, along with olives, pickled eggs and even dill pickles sealed in plastic bags, also will expand.
Have it out
But grocery stores, of course, are not the only places to find fresh salads.
Mike McGinley of Kingston is not a big salad eater, but he is drawn to the salad bar at the Bear Creek Inne, where he has dinner four or five times a year.
“Was there for dinner last night, and after I left and told some people about dinner, they said ‘Do they STILL have that same big salad bar?’ Free with every meal and all different stuff,” McGinley wrote on The Times Leader Features Facebook page.
He said he loves the Bear Creek Inne salad bar because he can add pasta, cheese and olives to his lettuce.
“So it’s nice for someone like me who isn’t a real salad junkie, because it has light green leaves, the cold Italian pasta, squares of cheese, croutons and black olives,” McGinley continued. “That, lathered in French dressing, is my ideal salad. Although I need to get more adventurous and try the other toppings available sometime.”
Lorraine Eddowes, Bear Creek Inne manager, said the salad bar, included with dinner, comes with potato salad, coleslaw, red beets and plenty of other extras.
“I really don’t think there too many places with salad bars anymore,” she said.
Fire and Ice on Toby Creek, an upscale Shavertown restaurant, still has one, and it’s praised by Susan Nardone of Plains Township.
“Their orange cognac salad dressing is to die for,” she wrote on the newspaper’s features Facebook page.
Molly Davis, a hostess at Fire and Ice, backed that up, calling the dressing “hugely popular.”
Also in demand are the fresh baked breads, honey thyme butter and soup such as butternut squash soup, as well as a Guinness chili, Davis said.
But for those who prefer to eat from their own “salad bar,” at-home, simple options are plentiful as well.
Nardone likes to make a salad consisting of “nothing but good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, garlic granules, salt and pepper … simple and delicious.”
SUSAN NARDONE’S SALAD RECIPE
Lettuce of your choice
Vegetables and other toppings of choice
2 or 3 parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar
Assemble lettuce and other toppings. Pour oil and vinegar on the salad individually. Add salt, pepper and garlic granules to taste and toss.