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    While we’re all waiting for Seviche to bring back its green chile Caesar, my favorite simple salad in town is the old reliable Henry Althaus at Eiderdown in Germantown. The menu reads: Grateful greens, bacon lardons, poached egg, Parmesan and “Flemish red vinaigrette.” Flemish! Ingredients not listed include salt, sugar, olive oil and beer. (The beer is actually the Flemish part.)

    But what the menu description doesn’t convey is the beauty. On top of the base layer of fresh and delicate greens, shaved cheese fans out to the edges, where it meets a surrounding wall of crispy bacon bits. And atop all of this lies the most perfectly poached egg that has ever invited you to poke into it. Seriously, this egg would be the envy of even the staunchest practitioner of “the traditional English breakfast.” Perish the thought that it’s English, though.

    Who was Henry Althaus, you may ask? He was allegedly the first person ever to brew beer in Germantown. And I feel sure that if he were to come back to life, he’d find the salad named for him a dish he could reckon with.

    — Mary Welp

    Eiderdown's Althaus salad



    The chef’s salad at Saints in St. Matthews is not fancy. It doesn’t have artisan-glazed walnuts or hard-to-pronounce French cheeses. It doesn’t need them. If you wanted to practice knife cuts, you might make it at home, with crisp greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and diced hard-boiled eggs. There’s chopped turkey, ham and bacon topped off with cheddar and mozzarella. It arrives in a giant bowl that might otherwise serve popcorn. Drizzle the tangy, house-made vinaigrette over the mountain and dig in.

    — Jenny Kiefer




    Some people consider the wedge salad an atrocious excuse for carnivores who have no respect for greens to pawn off their bacon-and-blue wedges as just the opposite. The most egregious insult of all is the salad’s foundation: vaguely green-pigmented iceberg lettuce, the ceaselessly kicked-around cousin of real lettuces, with minimal nutritional value. Well mea culpa, forgive this sinner. I can’t think of a more relishable meal-starter than the wedge at Coals pizza (in St. Matthews and Middletown) — a chunk of iceberg fresh out of the refrigerator crisper drawer and smothered in blue-cheese dressing, with Gorgonzola crumbles, applewood-smoked bacon, and bits of tomato, red onion and red radish. Hit it with the pepper grinder, please. Who cares that the lettuce is 96-percent water when it’s got that structure, that crunch. Don’t think I could say the same about spinach or kale.

    — Jack Welch


    Somehow, wedge salads have escaped steakhouse menus to show up in the wild, in restaurants that are, frankly, too good for them. The salad makes for a tired and messy dining experience that is more appropriately experienced in a desperate moment alone over the kitchen sink after you’ve dirtied all of your dishes and emptied the refrigerator of everything but condiments and a single head of lettuce.

    The wedge serves as a watery vehicle for the fat poured on top of it. And yes, iceberg lettuce has a clean crispness, but at what cost? The dish rarely strays from its expected form — a wedge of lettuce coated in blue cheese or ranch dressing; a crumble of blue or goat cheese; bacon bits; and, if you’re lucky, a sprinkling of slivered almonds or dried cranberries.

    Along with all of the other poor culinary choices popular in the mid-20th century (aspic, fondue, bananas cooked with meat) let’s please retire wedge salads to the tasteless hell they deserve.

    — Michelle Eigenheer



    It was our anniversary, and we were new in town. The restaurant menu was filled with Italian words, a reliable sign of a potential food coma. Starting with salad seemed a smart preventive measure. Porcini in Crescent Hill called this insalata “Lattuga Romano Alla Griglia.” Joey picked it. I didn’t even read the description. It’s salad, right? A salad is a salad is a salad, as Gertrude Stein meant to say before she was distracted by horticulture. But the first bite of romaine heart was — how can this be? — smoky, with a faint but unmistakable flavor of a light charring on the grill. Yes, there was Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago crostini, toasted pine nuts and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. But the charred romaine, the unlikely marriage of crisp with savory, elevated the whole deal. It would be enough to send Stein back to her rose bed.

    — Jenni Laidman

    Lattuga Romano Alla Griglia at Porcini



    As these pages chronicle splendid developments in local salad-making, I’d like to swing low with this admission: I love salad bars — the old-school, continental breakfast of salads in which I curate my pile of roughage and protein. Total control, down to how many peas will playfully hide-and-seek in the leaves or, perhaps, sink into a cottage cheese pillow, and where I’ll precisely place sliced beets to bleed.

    Stevens & Stevens Deli in the Highlands does not have the squat, Plexiglas gazebo of partitioned greens and toppings. It does have a pick-three called Lord of the Rings that gifts me the power of choice. I start with a bed of greens and then make three selections from the deli’s case of fresh, hearty pasta and side salads, like seasoned green beans, the Wendell Wheat Berry (wheat berry grain, roasted sweet potatoes, fennel, apples, sun-dried cherries and balsamic) or the Maharaja (couscous, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, lemon and olive oil) or the Last Emperor (a personal fave that includes edamame, tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers, cilantro and lime). For a reasonable $8.50, I carry away a trio of flavors and textures executed by and for me.   

    — Anne Marshall



    In search of market differentiation, restaurants have pushed the definition of salad to the point that “salad” no longer means salad. So let’s be clear: The ideal salad has no more than six ingredients, none of which is iceberg lettuce; is of moderate size; and belongs at the side of a meal, not in the center. Salads are supposed to be healthful as well, which implies that anyone who has ever been served a taco salad should be eligible for a refund.

    With the exception of a small sprinkle of bacon, meat on a salad is disqualifying. The addition of slabbish beef to a beef-and-blue salad with croutons, for example, opens the theoretical possibility that removing one more leaf of lettuce would convert the pile into roast-beef-and-blue-cheese-on-toast finger sandwiches. Nothing against beef-and-blue cheese, which is surely one of God’s great combinations. It’s just not salad.

    Cheese should not overwhelm. A salad should rely on dressing as a complement, not a main ingredient, and need not contain pomegranate. If there are tomatoes, they should be ripe. Cherry tomatoes are permissible because chasing them around with a fork adds a playful element to a meal. There should be a law requiring some variety of onion — preferably red or, if you’re feeling fancy, shallots. It should come in a bowl because salad on a plate can slide away when pursued by an enthusiastic fork.

    The salad meeting these qualifications is the side salad at Dragon King’s Daughter (in the Highlands and New Albany). It is bountiful, based on mixed greens with a spectacular ginger dressing. There are onions. There is avocado and a tablespoon of bland cheese that, together, provide more texture than flavor. It’s small enough that you can finish it before the meal arrives and still have an appetite. I have ordered one before the meal and one after as a kind of dessert. I have ordered one to-go “for lunch tomorrow” and, I’m not proud to admit, eaten it in the car.

    — Tom Johnson



    The miso sesame salad at Chik’n & Mi in Clifton is like a walk through the woods after a rain. The big bowl arrives with dark greens, cool and crisp, as if they have just drifted down from the trees in a strong breeze. They cover a bed of arugula, and as your fork probes the verdant layers it makes surprising discoveries: a fine-sliced asparagus shoot, maybe a sliver of sugar snap pea or radish. But best of all are the tidy, prim little shimeji mushrooms, moist and clumped in groups of twos and threes — perfect bite-size pieces. The earthy mushrooms are a perfect counterpart to the peppery arugula.

    When I order salad anywhere else, I always ask for dressing on the side, but it’s not necessary with this delicate miso vinaigrette dressing, a thin coating of oil with just the right touch of sesame. The dressing is so spare that this $8 delight will actually keep for a second day. And it is large enough to take home or split with your dinner mate.

    — Nina Walfoort

    Miso sesame salad at Chik’n & Mi



    ...At Royal's

    If you think about Royals (and all hot-chicken places), they really just serve one thing: a plate of chicken with a side. But I find myself craving the kale salad at this NuLu spot. The recipe changes seasonally, but it’s always topped with crispy hot-chicken tenders and served in the blue-and-white tin plates that I’ve come to associate with a good Southern meal. The summer iteration of the kale salad features a bed of baby kale topped with pickled red onions, shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese and golden raisins (replaced in cooler months with apple for a sweet crunch). Spicy ranch dressing is poured over the chicken to mix with a Nashville-style hot dip, creating a red-and-white swirl. Pair with a Cheerwine or Ale-8-One and you’ve got a summer staple.

    — ME

    …At Joella’s

    The hot chicken trend had come and gone by the time I tried it in 2017. By that point, even giant chains like KFC had adopted it. Trendy or not, I was thankful to the co-workers who introduced me to Joella’s (in St. Matthews and Middletown). I fell for the chopped kale salad with fried chicken tenders on top. Unlike many chicken-topped salads, this one is good enough to stand chickenless. The sweetness of the lemon dressing and the currants balance out the bitter kale, and the toasted almonds actually do live up to their promised crunchiness. There’s nothing worse than a soggy almond in a salad.

    During my peak chicken-and-kale obsession, I requested it every time there was an opportunity to go out for lunch or dinner. I’ve celebrated a few major occasions, including my birthday and finishing the Louisville Triple Crown of Running, with this salad. We’ve settled into a good relationship now. I eat it probably once a month, and have never not enjoyed every bite.

    — Amy Talbott



    After the vegetable lasagna my husband ordered came without actual lasagna noodles (OK, there was one thin, soft layer at the top that was nearly indistinguishable from ricotta), it wasn’t surprising that the fried Brussels sprouts salad contained zero lettuce. No mundane romaine. The sprouts still pack that chlorophyll punch when pan-fried in canola oil and tossed in red wine-Dijon vinaigrette, right? And generously hailed with oven-roasted macadamia nuts? Tossed with shaved Parm? Underneath a fried egg that spills like hot lava over the rich vegetation? The tart dried cherries bring an extra sense of maturity to the ensemble, like a dried cranberry’s cooler, older cousin. And the shaved radish — the only item in its unaltered state — contributes a refreshing crunch, any bitterness masked by all the flavorful, filling fats. As we dined on this Southern-inspired comfort food (or so the Village Anchor, in Anchorage, describes its menu), we overheard a woman thank her friend for meeting her at the restaurant, saying that she’d been craving a good salad — an entire section of the menu is salads-as-meals. The new executive chef, Jon Pauly, says he tried this fried Brussels sprouts bowl on his second day. “I don’t think anyone’s leaving hungry,” he says.

    — Mary Chellis Nelson



    I checked the receipts. I’ve eaten the avocado-shrimp salad at Red Hog an average of once a week since January, three times over one particular Wednesday-to-Saturday stretch in May. A skewer of five grilled shrimp (in a marinade that comes over from Italy on a container ship) tops a mound of peppery arugula, with a halved avocado, bursts of briny capers, a housemade chimichurri and lemon wedges. Salt (capers), fat (avocado), acid (lemon zest), heat (those charred shrimp). Build each bite to suit your tastes. “The salad has a hands-on aspect to it,” says Alison Settle, chef of the restaurant attached to the Crescent Hill butcher shop. “It’s a DIY salad.” Red Hog’s menu changes often, but good news for me: “(The salad) has a following even though it’s not meat-centric,” Settle says. “I probably won’t ever take it off the menu.”

    — Josh Moss



    Ten years ago, I went on a Salad Quest. I like quests, though I’m not fastidious about completion. Mostly, I like the idea, and I like to launch them with great fanfare.

    My inspiration was the article “101 Simple Salads” in the New York Times, by food writer Mark Bittman. These weren’t the usual toss of lettuce in its many variations. These read like health candy: tomatoes with peaches, carrots with blueberries, mango and jicama dusted with cilantro, mint, coconut milk, curry and — that life-changing ingredient — cumin. I was in. Before the day was over, I declared: I will make them all! (Declarations are Step 1 of any quest.) To date, this was my best quest ever, better than the time I tested chocolate chip cookie recipes for about a month. Better even than my waffle quest.

    Here’s what I learned: When you post recipes with photos on social media, which I started doing a week or two into the quest, people rush to tell you which ingredients they don’t like, because individual dislikes provoke a fascinating exchange of ideas, right? The legions who don’t like cilantro couldn’t wait to say so, as proud as kindergarteners bringing home their first gold stars. Cilantro dislike, I’m certain, is caused by an unfortunate genetic mutation. It’s not something to brag about.   

    Wait, I’m way off topic. Let’s try again.

    Here are a few of my favorite Salad Quest recipes, starting with one that took me a few tries to get right:

    Lightly brown grape tomatoes in oil. Sprinkle them with curry and let them cool. Toss with arugula, chopped mint and lime juice. My first effort was a tad too curry-ful. I also switched to baby arugula. The result: a wonderful, complex salad. Great textures with lots of flavor.

    How about a chickpea salad with toasted coconut? (Yes, please find me on Facebook and tell me you don’t like coconut, because that’s so interesting!) Spread the coconut on a cookie sheet and put it in a preheated 325-degree oven. Keep an eye on it. Before Vatican II, people went to hell for burning good coconut. Combine the lightly browned coconut with chickpeas, shredded carrots, chopped celery, olive oil, lime juice, curry powder and cilantro. If you use canned chickpeas — and I always do — try Goya brand. They’re not the hard, flavorless pebbles you’ll find under several other labels. You can leave off the cilantro. No need to tell me it tastes like soap to you, bless your heart.

    I thought a mixture of chopped bitter endive, radicchio and escarole would be forbidding. But when you mix those with halved fresh cherries, lightly sautéed in a little balsamic vinegar, divine taste symmetry is inevitable. Sauté the cherries until they just begin to break down. The recipe calls for toasted hazelnuts, but I prefer toasted pine nuts. Add a bit of oil and vinegar.

    Did I finish all 101? No. I keep going back to repeat my successes. But I still might. You can’t set deadlines on a worthy quest.

    — JL



    The Yucatán-born Mayan Café chef seemed surprised. I told Bruce Ucan that the Mayan salad at his NuLu restaurant was a favorite. The apple-crispy jicama, chunks of fresh orange and grapefruit, roasted pumpkin seeds, avocado, radishes, a bit of queso fresco and a honey-chile-lime vinaigrette are tossed into local mesclun greens. The salad makes me think of cooling off in the crystal-clear water of a cenote in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The cold subterranean swimming holes, formed by collapsed limestone, dot the often bone-dry and baking-hot tropical brush.

    “Really?” Ucan said. The salad wasn’t what customers raved about amid signature dishes like salbutes, tok-sel lima beans or cochinita pibil. In fact, he’d replaced my favorite salad months earlier with a kale-quinoa, mustard-vinaigrette version. Time to try something new.

    But Ucan, from the tiny town of Kantunil, near a number of cenotes, smiled at the memory of what the Mayans called sacred wells, some known only to locals. The salad isn’t on the menu, he said, but anyone can still order it. Think of it as knowing the location of secret cenote. 

    — Chris Kenning

    Mayan salad at Mayan Café



    Some friends and I wander into Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse at Fourth Street Live! as a dad band covers “What I Like About You.” I give my phone number to the hostess so she can send me a text when my table’s ready. “Oh, you’re from here!” she says excitedly. “We never get 502 numbers.”

    The menu section “Greens & Chili Beans” has four salads. There’s a standard garden salad, as well as a pretty ordinary Caesar and Cobb, both topped with smoked chicken. I contemplate the last one, and ask myself: Is this a salad? It’s a warm dish of Brussels sprouts and sweet potato, pickled red onion, roasted red peppers and a heap of crispy, deep-fried onions, all tossed in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. I’ve watched enough Triple-D (you know, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) to know in my heart that Guy would tell me that, yes, it is a salad. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Guy eat a leafy green that wasn’t topping a juicy sandwich. I add the smoked chicken for good measure.

    The Garbage Can Nachos arrive first, to great fanfare as diners at our neighboring table lean in to see the reveal. “This is technically a salad,” my companion says as she digs into the cheesy mound of chips.

    — ME



    “This is what it looked like,” says Jerry Gnagy, my co-worker at (and a co-owner of) Against the Grain Brewery on East Main Street. He points to his black-and-white tattoo of a salad bar sneeze-guard blueprint. Dimensions of materials, building instructions, an outline for a pulley system, and designs for possible third leg support are inked permanently on his left forearm. Three years ago, Gnagy got the tattoo to commemorate a “special time” in his life.

    “It was ridiculous to have a salad bar in a brewery,” he says about Bluegrass Brewing Co., where he worked before opening Against the Grain in 2011. His philosophy? If something displeases you greatly, you have two options. You can either let it eat you up inside, or you can embrace it. Considering his tattoo, Gnagy has been embracing salad bars for over a decade.

    Gnagy moved to Louisville in 2003 to take a brewing position at BBC. The manager of the restaurant decided to implement a lunchtime salad bar at the former St. Matthews location. “Our lunchtime crowd became very different. The Atria (senior living) bus started making a stop at BBC,” Gnagy says.

    The BBC salad bar was makeshift: A folding table topped with a plastic boat-shaped vessel to hold a variety of classic salad-bar items. “They filled it with ice and six pans, and as the ice would melt, (the pans would) start to shift,” he says. Then there was the sneeze guard that the chef constructed. “It was made out of two-by-six lumber and was built like it was going to go through a hurricane,” he recalls. Every day at 2 p.m., BBC staff would disassemble the salad bar, stashing the 80-pound sneeze guard in the brewery, “which obviously infuriated me because it was in the way,” Gnagy says. “Then there was the idea for a pulley system to raise it up and out of the way, and I thought that was just crazy.”

    Since quitting BBC, Gnagy’s history with the salad bar has become a lightning rod of inspiration for several beers he’s made, like Saladbarity, a Baltic porter, and Bronan the Saladbarian, a barrel-aged imperial Baltic porter.

    He says one of his favorite salad-bar quotes is, “Take all you want but eat all you take.”

    — Katie Molck


    This originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Salad Days." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar,

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