Salad is a gloriously malleable concept. A salad can have vegetables, meat, cheese, beans or grains. They can be appetizers, side dishes or entrees and they can be healthy or deliriously fattening. During the summer when gardens start to overflow and heirloom tomatoes ripen, they really start to shine. Here are eight of the best salads you can eat and where to find them around town.
Cobb salad. I think this is just about the perfect entree salad, and one that always delivers the goods at lunchtime. This glorious assemblage of greens, chicken, blue cheese, scallion, tomato, avocado, bacon and hard-boiled egg was supposedly invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby in 1930s and remains a staple of restaurants all over town. You can get a great version out at 75 Cafe in Lenexa. It is made to order and delivered to your table for eight bucks.
Cole Slaw. Yes, we are a town that loves our barbecue, but we also love our side dishes. The closest thing you can get to a salad at most barbecue joints (barring RJ’s burnt end salad) is cole slaw. Cabbage is the canvass but you can take cole slaw in so many directions. I prefer a sweet, tangy version rather than an overly creamy one but I do love both the regular and spicy cole slaw at Oklahoma Joe’s.
Green Papaya Salad. Long a staple of southeast Asian cuisine, green papaya can be shredded into strands, reminiscent of noodles or slaw. Mixed with fresh herbs, minced chiles and a sweet and sour fish sauce dressing it makes a wonderful appetizer or side dish. The salad is not on the menu at Kansas City’s best Vietnamese restaurant, Vietnam Cafe, but Pho 97 on Independence Avenue serves a top-notch variation.
Nicoise Salad. I’m quivering with desire just thinking about Nicoise salad. This Frenchie, tarted up Cobb raises the bar with the inclusion of tuna, potatoes, green beans and Nicoise olives. It is a strangely hearty salad due to the potatoes and the protein present in tuna and the hard-boiled egg. The best part may be the dijon vinaigrette. Sadly it is hard to find a place in town that prepares a classic Nicoise, but Starker’s has a nice version with salmon instead of tuna. I also had one at Aixois several years ago but it has not appeared on recent editions of the menu.
Wedge Salad. These old school steakhouse starters almost single-handedly brought iceberg lettuce back from the brink of utter uncoolness. Featuring a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce, bacon, blue cheese dressing and maybe some croutons or diced tomato, the wedge has similar flavors as the Cobb and is about the most unhealthful salad you can order. I used to love the version at City Tavern before it closed but you still can get it all over town, including Garozzo’s.
Caprese Salad. In my opinion, this is the best summer salad on earth. The ingredients speak for themselves: tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella. Yes you can wake up the salad with a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked black pepper, or even drizzle a balsamic reduction judiciously over the top. But these enhancements are not mandatory, as long as the salad is made with great tomatoes. The Farmhouse has a somewhat unorthodox version made with cubes of tomato rather than slices, which I really enjoyed.
Tabouleh. This is a reason to keep bulgar in your cupboard. When combined with minced parsley and mint, and mixed with chopped tomatoes, bulgar takes on a whole new life. The dressing is typically a lemony affair with a hearty dose of good olive oil. Eat tabouleh on its own, or as a kind of condiment on a falafel sandwich. Olive Cafe on the southeast side makes some of the best tabouleh around.
Caesar Salad. Hail Caesar! This is another one that will give you coronary disease if you don’t watch it, but damn are Caesar salads ever good. They have unfortunately been bastardized into something you can pick out of a refrigerated case, but the key is to make it from scratch and eat it right away. Avoid bottled caesar dressings, store-bought croutons and powdered parmesan cheese. Or better yet, just stop by Lidia’s and have their version– it’s much better than anything I have ever made.