Still slightly suffering from my deep-fried cinnamon roll hangover even weeks after visiting to the North Carolina State Fair last Saturday and with the food holidays looming, I had been harboring major cravings for salad to cleanse my body of its greasy, carb-filled impurities. But I hit an impasse when I was struck that I really didn’t know where to go for the best salad in town.
Whole Foods Market seemed like the obvious answer—troughs filled with a bounty of vibrant comestible goodies like buffalo tofu and edamame that allows salad enthusiasts to channel their inner salad architect with a munificent harvest of toppings that could trick anyone into thinking that they have stepped foot into the neighborhood fro-yo joint. At the 7.99 per pound price point, a self-assembled salad slides toward the expensive side, but certainly a manageable stretch to not ingest corn-based byproducts for the day.
But, truthfully, I wanted a restaurant-prepared salad. I thought about the The Raleigh Times’ Asian Tuna Salad and its hearty portion of seared marinated tuna, but didn’t want to deal with the possibility of a raucous Saturday night slew of slaphappy bar enthusiasts milling about when all I wanted was to fork salad greens into my mouth in relative peace (despite the newly opened additional space next door).
I finally settled on my salad go-to: Lilly’s Pizza’s Bantam Weight —a mellifluous concoction of greens nesting under the weight of tender grilled chicken bits surrounded by Lilly’s famous glutinous, bready croutons and crunchy pecans.
The unshakable salad craving got me wondering—what is the best salad in town? And how does a salad craver judge what elements comprise a good salad?
Of course, with any salad, freshness is paramount. A salad packed with luxurious ingredients is not worth much if not fresh. Ideally, a restaurant uses fresh, young greens as a foundation—no wilted pieces, all dried and cleaned fastidiously. Salad toppings and accoutrements should be nicely balanced and proportioned to the greens. Restraint should be used in salad construction; too many ingredients can cause the salad to seem clumsy with conflicting flavors and textures. Dressing should also not drench the salad–a salad should be well-seasoned, but not drowned in globs of vinaigrette. The layers of textures should also be considered when assessing the palatability of a salad—intertwining textures from nuts and croutons can be pleasing to the salad palate when chomping down on a salad. And, plating should not be forgotten. Same-sized pieces of greens should be on the bottom with salad toppings dispersed delicately and evenly on top. After all, restaurants want the salads to look aesthetically pleasing to the health conscious next to the tempting aromas wafting over from the plate of fried chicken and waffles at the next table over.
So, where exactly can a salad enthusiast go for a good salad in town? Is it Helios in the Glenwood South district? Is it a newer contender like Wilmoore Café on Wilmington Street? Or is it more of an unconventional salad, perhaps something at an ethnic restaurant? Should I stroll by the velvet skinny jeans-clad mannequins at the GAP in Crabtree Valley Mall and make a beeline towards the food court to Crisp for my salad cravings? Salad lovers, please let me know your suggestions for the best salad in town.