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Switching to Salad with Emily

August 20, 2018

Sometimes you need a break from eggs slathered in a butter sauce. I get it. I’m back from a seemingly endless vacation of eating.

My plan was to not eat any ice cream when I was out at the farm. But instead, I ended up eating frozen custard pretty much every day. It’s hard to say no to frozen custard. And on Saturday we’re going out for the Tour de Soft Serve. Just in case you missed it, the nomination period is still open. The official itinerary will be posted tomorrow.

So, when Emily L. sent me a note that she took a break from eggs benny to write a guest blog about salad, I totally understood. But it’s not just salad that has captured Emily’s heart. It’s salad bars. And her love affair with them is long and deep.

Salad Bars in the Capital Region

Growing up in the midwest, buffets were a way of life. When my family came home from Spain each summer, we would march into Ryan’s, gorge ourselves on their sweet rolls, soft serve, and cold French fries, and walk away stuffed. My grandmother’s love of Chinese buffets was so well known that when the price of the buffet went up 25 cents, my uncle gave her a roll of quarters for Christmas to make up for the price difference.

I was the unusual child who looked forward to the salad bar. Filled with all of the salad toppings of my dreams, I would eat plate after plate of caesar and ranch laden vegetables. Salad bars were the key to my kid heart. I remember the heartbreak I endured when Wendy’s discontinued their salad bar. But Wendy’s was the first of many restaurant salad bar casualties. In seems by the late 90s, these establishments were a thing of the past.

But recently, I joined friends at Raindancer Restaurant in Amsterdam, New York. Open since 1980, this Amsterdam institution features an extensive menu of traditional American fare, a wood paneled interior, and large tables for group seating. However, what it is best known for is the salad bar included with most entrees.

Though nothing inventive, the salad bar was solid. Clean and fresh, it featured a variety of leafy greens including fresh spinach, fresh vegetables, traditional potato and pasta salads, various toppings, and, my personal favorite, pickled onions. On the less traditional note, I noticed they had chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes, something I don’t remember seeing at salad buffets in the 90s. At the end of the salad bar, there were several loaves of fresh bread and a huge block of cheese with large knives to cut; no one seemed worried about lawsuits or accidents with these knives. And of course, there were plenty of mayo-laden salad dressings to choose from.

The picture of my food is not glamorous. In fact, it would be known in the food world as “bad food porn”. But it was fresh and a throwback to my childhood; I went back for seconds. I also ordered scallops, which were well seasoned. But I was so full from the salad bar, I didn’t really even savor them.

I am told there are a few known restaurant salad bars in the area, Log Jam by Lake George and Barnsider in Albany. Ruby Tuesdays somehow makes a salad bar work on a chain model. But I wonder how long they will last for. It’s hard to keep salad bars clean and fresh. Perhaps a better model would be to have customers pay by the pound, like at Whole Foods or a cafeteria. Or maybe this is one food style to let go.

A salad bar with a huge block of cheese? Part of me really wants to see this for myself. But these aren’t the kinds of salads that I’ll be eating as I try to undo the damage I did to my waistline in Pennsylvania. Sure, I love salads that eat like cheeseburgers, but they aren’t in the cards at the moment.

My goal these days is to just eat less. I say that, of course, knowing that tonight I may have ice cream for dinner. And now I don’t even have vacation to blame.

Coincidentally, yesterday on the way back from the farm, we swung by Brooks BBQ for dinner. In line, someone was wrongly insisting that the place was so wildly popular because of the excellence of its salad bar. I think he may have been joking. But I also think he truly didn’t get the appeal of the Brooks chicken.

Man, I love that stuff. The only vegetable I want to go with that meal is maybe a little coleslaw. Or perhaps a bite of baked beans. But maybe Emily can visit and report back on her impressions of that salad bar. The turnover there is incredible, and they are always restocking its contents.

It could be a contender.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2018 10:43 am

    Huge block of cheese is a local trope. The Barnsider always had this. People would comment on it. A big draw.

    I have this awesome 80s Capital Region restaurant cookbook with Raindancer recipes. I’m gonna have to dig it out. Never been.

  2. MikeH permalink
    August 20, 2018 11:17 am

    A few years ago we ate at Lanie’s on Albany-Shaker Road in Loudonville and they had a salad bar with a huge block of cheese.

  3. Deedee permalink
    August 20, 2018 11:30 am

    I haven’t been to The Barnsider in a while but they always used to have a huge block of sharp cheddar cheese. My kids always called it “the place with the good cheese”.

  4. Jen permalink
    August 20, 2018 4:54 pm

    What farm were you at where you had frozen custard? Please share…

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