Summer is in full swing, and our hearts are as light as our appetites. We are overwhelmed with lush produce and a collective sense of goodwill toward Mother Earth and her farmers. Salad is the go-to meal of the moment. As 18th-century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “It freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating.” We’ll go one step further and add that salad can make a heckuva yummy feast. But wait: It must be mentioned that our salad days are running out, in every sense of the phrase. Blink your eyes and... well, you know. We have a leg up, though. No one knows how to make the most of summer like a Minnesotan does, and our local eateries prove this with a mind-boggling roster of enticing salads. Here are a few of our favorites.
Please don’t think of Jake’s as the typical Irish pub—the focus here is clearly menu-centric, so let’s call it a gastropub. The executive chef is a master of suave reinterpretation. Salad-wise, there’s a fascinating Irish reinterpretation of the traditional iceberg wedge made from roasted cabbage and served with warm bacon dressing (Yowza!). Our current kale fixation was handily soothed by their kale salad: lots of the curly green stuff, toasted pumpkin seeds, shallots, candied pecans, cotija cheese (feta-like, Mexican) and macerated cranberries. There is a slight kick of a citrus dressing—happily modest in the service of these fine ingredients. $12.25. 200 Water St., Excelsior; 952.908.9650.
There aren’t many of them around anymore, but this old-school salad bar has all the building blocks of a killer salad and more—even the sneeze guard for your hygienic peace of mind. Grab a chilled plate and go for it. On any given evening, there are at least three choices of lettuces and a dizzying rainbow of veggies: multi-colored bell pepper slices, snow peas, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, carrots, broccoli florets, grape tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, green and black olives, beets, chopped red onion—to name just a few. Lots of protein choices occupy the bar, including hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, chopped ham, sliced turkey, shredded cheddar, bacon bits, pickled herring (!) and sunflower seeds. House-made creamy coleslaw, potato salad and three-bean in vinaigrette grace the scene. Plus, there’s a nightly hot entrée—maybe mini corndogs, maybe meatballs in gravy—and a choice of two soups. The vegan black bean soup is slurp-tastic, especially with a few of the irresistibly soft garlic breadsticks. $9.50. 5765 Sanibel Drive, Minnetonka; 952.935.6537.
A restaurant is only as good as its salad. OK, we admit that we just made that saying up, but it begs consideration because delicate greens need thoughtful handling, and a kitchen that knows how to treat its vegetables is sure to be exacting in every corner of the menu. Punch, primarily a pizza slinger, proves the point with spunky salads, exponentially chowable paired with some to-die-for wood-fired pizza. The Pulcinella—another variation on the name “Punch,” a marionette character identified by his singular physique and his wooden spoon—is a simple confab of rosy red grape tomatoes, snowy-fresh mozzarella cheese and a tangle of sturdy arugula. Pile it onto a warm split focaccia for a match made in gastronomic heaven, where the kicky greens stand firm and the cheese is a little melty around the edges. Good olive oil seals the deal. $9.75. 1313 Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata; 952.476.7991.
Some salads tend to a busy-ness that muddles the gastronomic punch. Not so with the Brasiliana salad at Bacio. This seductive dish is a tropical tableau of a few deliberately chosen, top-notch performers: the palest of celery shoots, ivory-tender hearts of palm, frilly butter lettuce, onion, tomato and avocado. The light lemon vinaigrette pitches in with a quiet but indispensable smack of tart. Sure, you could add protein—most eateries offer add-ons—but this savvy mélange is perfect as is, so why gild the lily? Half, $9, whole, $13. 1571 Plymouth Road, Minnetonka; 952.544.7000.
Black and Blue Cobb Salad
Homer Simpson says “You don’t win friends with salad,” but obviously he never met this salad, which is more like a steak dinner with tasty tidbits. Spasso’s Cobb is certainly not salad in the “diet food” way; this gathering of yum will kick your booty to heights of well-fed bliss, calories be hanged. The Cobb salad’s origin, like that of many iconic recipes, is murky. Maybe it was invented in the 1930s at the Derby restaurants in Hollywood by a guy named Cobb. (Google “Cobb salad”—there are many contenders. Thank you to whoever it was.) Traditionally we expect hard-boiled egg, avocado, blue cheese and bacon; Spasso’s interpretation has all that plus a generous array of slices of grilled rosy-rare skirt steak, soft, gently pungent gorgonzola cheese and an admirably gorgeous assembly. The spritely citrus-herb dressing is surprising in the best possible way. Don’t forget that there’s a beverage shop next door, which means wholesale wine prices. $15. 17523 Minnetonka Blvd.; 952.224.9555.
can be a free-for-all when it comes to experimentation, but the
classics stay true: Caesar, wedge, Waldorf, and, one of our favorites,
Greek. The simplest salads depend on the finest ingredients. Christos
understands this dictate and illustrates it nobly with top-notch romaine
lettuce, kalamata olives, red onion, capers and salty, crumbly cubes of
feta cheese. Get a stack of soft warm pita to go with this pile of
zippiness and use it to soak up the “house special” dressing, an embrace
of quintessential Greek accents of lemon, olive oil and oregano. This
eatery may be smack-dab on the highway, but step inside and it’s all
Aegean turquoise and white stucco—a paradisiacal, salad-worthy
environment. $5.65, small, $9.95, large. 15600 Highway 7, Minnetonka; 952.912.1000.
We love Big Bowl for its nouvelle Asian fare. The eatery is especially skilled at updating familiar recipes with verve and style. The Asian chicken salad is a stellar example: It’s got the vegetables just right, along with perfectly cooked chunks of chicken, sorta-sweet sesame vinaigrette, apples and carrots. This may be the closest thing to Brillat-Savarin’s fortifying-without-enervating ideal. Definitely check out Big Bowl’s seasonally inspired summer rolls, little herb-laced salads bound up in translucent rice paper. $9.99. 12649 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.797.9888.
The Marsh, bastion of whole food and healthy lifestyle programs, is a fantastic place to savor a vitamin-rich salad. The menu is consistently brilliant in conception and execution, duly accommodating the bounty of the season. If you’re in the mood for a salad with a little more staying power than stand-alone raw veggies, get one with an oh-so-popular “super grain,” like the fiber- and protein-rich quinoa. Nutty, light quinoa is especially suited to a salad. The Marsh kitchen uses a pretty red variety and tosses it with sweet dried figs, poached pears and pistachios. Peppery arugula adds extra crunch and kick; puckery citrus vinaigrette brings the whole shebang into focus. $9. Add tofu, chicken or salmon ($3, $5, $7). 15000 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.935.2202.
Grilled Pineapple and Spinach Salad
Cherished for its burgers, Gold Nugget is no slouch in the salad department. We gravitate to their bold tavern salads, especially the grilled pineapple and spinach number. Feta cheese, spinach, strawberries, avocado, pumpkin seeds and grilled pineapple romp in a honey-kissed, poppy seed-studded vinaigrette. It’s a satisfying symphony of texture and flavor: sweet, creamy, crunchy, tangy, salty. Not to mention that the serving size is as big as your head. $12.50. 14401 Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.935.3600.