Story by Dave Eckert
Now that the heat switch has been flipped for the summer in Kansas City, many of us are opting for lighter fare in the higher temperatures. For many in the metro and beyond that means salads. Area restaurants are certainly obliging with a host of new fresh salads on their menus. But, as I discovered in a little salad exploration, what defines a salad varies widely as does what elements are contained in said salads. Running the gamut from traditional, to avant garde, to ethnic, there are a myriad of salad offerings out there. Here are a few examples that I encountered along with a personal favorite that has become a summertime staple at the Eckert house.
They’ve rolled out four new salads at Barley’s Kitchen + Tap, which can be found at both the Overland Park and Shawnee locations. Barley’s is owned and operated by KC Hopps. I asked the company’s Executive Chef, Ryan Sneed, what he looks for in a salad in the spring and summer when adding to or changing a menu. “I like to add seasonal flare to the menu. I also like to support local whenever possible by using local farmers and growers. And lastly, my goal is to provide lighter, feel-good fare during the spring and summer,” Sneed shared.
Sneed hit all three targets with his Gluten-Free Smoked Salmon Salad and Keto Protein Bowl along with the Vegetarian Brussels + Burrata and Seared Tuna Tataki Salad. All four dishes are under 700 calories. As you can tell, Sneed not only wanted to lighten things up, but also appeal to the vegetarian and gluten-free crowd. Coming up with salads that are vegetarian, gluten-free, lower in calories, and tasty is a challenge Sneed relishes. “It is THE most challenging aspect of the spring/summer menu. A huge amount of research and development goes into Barley’s dishes, and these salads are no exception,” Sneed shared. “Some of these items had a dozen revisions before I was happy with them.” I tried all four of Barley’s new options, and I can say that I’m happy Sneed was happy.
I also had the chance to sample some of the greenery at the Gladstone outpost of Summit Grill. I’ve dined at Summit many times but diving into their salad selection was a new experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. “We have our four base salads: the chopped, the wedge, the house, and the Caesar, and each one of those you can mix and match with different proteins,” Summit Grill’s General Manager Jeff O’Brian said.
Summit Grill features eight, count them, eight salads – starting with the base salads then ramping up to a grilled chicken and goat cheese, fried chicken, steak, and a blackened Faroe Island salmon salad. And, as O’Brian mentioned, there’s so much flexibility. For example, my wife thought the salmon salad sounded good, but she doesn’t care for salmon. No problem, she subbed in Ahi tuna and she was a happy camper. “We’re a scratch kitchen, so we’re happy to accommodate requests. It may add a minute or two to your ticket time, but as long as you’re patient with us, we’ll be patient with you,” O’Brian commented.
I saw a recent Facebook post from Pam Liberda, the talented chef/owner at Waldo Thai. It was a picture of Liberda’s Khao Tod Man Sod, a crispy seasoned rice salad with cured pork sausage, scallion, red onion, cilantro, peanut, dried chili, and some fresh lettuce leaves. It looked so good I just had to have it. And so I did! I also had a nice discussion with Liberda about how Asian restaurants in general, and Thai restaurants specifically, approach salads. “We don’t generally view salads the way they do in the west,” Liberda explained. “For us, the lettuce is usually a vessel to carry the other element on the dish.” Think lettuce wraps but way more intricate and delicious.
The same theme played out over a recent dinner at Bo Ling’s. Owner Theresa Ng had two salads on the table for us when we arrived. Neither approached anything like the salads I had at Barley’s or Summit, yet both were delicious. One consisted only of cucumbers and garlic and the second of cabbage and mushrooms. The salads were served at room temperature. They were the perfect start to our meal, and something I never would have ordered on my own.
Finally, I wanted to share a salad I enjoy doing at home, especially in the summer. It features grilled romaine lettuce, which you slice in half, drizzle with olive oil, and char on the grill. The charred lettuce is topped with crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts and served with a classic ranch dressing. You can vary the dressing, cheese, and nuts if you like, but I’ve found the goat cheese, pine nuts, and ranch are quite harmonious. I like to serve the salad while the lettuce is still hot, so the cheese melts a bit. It’s a great way to start a summer evening out on the deck or patio.
Whatever your salad experience is this summer, here’s hoping they’re tasty ones!