Finding fresh flavor with salad this season

The word “greens” is associated with many things such as plants, health, and food. A bountiful blend of vegetables and fruits coupled with an irresistible crunch factor, salad makes for a satisfying meal with the freshest blend of flavors.

Salads don’t have to be bland, nor do they have to serve as a post-holiday guilt meal. Housed inside Flagship Commons at Westroads Mall, Clever Greens lives by its slogan, “What salad could be. What salad should be.” Anthony Hitchcock, chief operating officer of Flagship Restaurant Group, said the expression promotes salad exploration and encourages customers to create their favorite salad. With a desire to offer a lighter option for people searching for something healthy, the fast-casual concept solely focuses on salads and serves guests by simply having them go through a line, build their salad, and watch as it’s tossed to order. Hitchcock said this ensures that all ingredients are mixed accordingly and dressing is spread evenly. To avoid an over-dressed salad, the Clever Greens team is trained on the appropriate amount of dressing through a simple process: taste, refine, rework, repeat. “Not tossing it will leave you with a more boring bite, but the right toss will make each bite scrumptious,” Hitchcock said.

Whether you dip your greens, add a drizzle on top, or mix in all the goods, there is no wrong way to savor a salad. Based on his experience with customers at Foodies, Owner and Chef Brian Hilger found that many people were ordering their dressings on the side. While the restaurant previously trickled the condiment on top, it now finishes all orders to serve dressings on the side so people can dress salads to their liking. Adding dressing too early can result in watered-down greens that lack their crisp, textured nature, and using too much dressing can create a flood at the bottom of the dish, which Hilger said simply “ruins the salad.” Hilger said the dressing on the side approach allows for dippers, mixers, and even those who prefer a naked salad to enjoy it how they like. “It’s all in the flavor profile,” Hilger added. “When you taste different salads, you know what goes with it.”

It’s true that eating foods that align with your values can sometimes make the food itself taste better. No matter your lifestyle, the diverse flavors that radiate from salads should carry through to every diet. Catering to the vegan clientele, Modern Love focuses on flavor and enhances the taste experience through plant-based products. The restaurant dishes its salads with dressing massaged into the greens or served on the side—depending on which salad is served. Head Chef and General Manager Liam Smith dubbed dressing as the base of most of the flavor but said not all salads require it. He mentioned that the heavy flavors of Modern Love’s Kale Caesar salad pair best with a heavier-based dressing, while a lighter one suits the fresh herbs, lemon juice, and oils used in its gluten-free Greek Salad. 

The word “salad” derives from the ancient Latin word “sal” for salt. Both salt and pepper play important roles in salad for different reasons. Salt is considered a flavor enhancer whereas pepper adds flavor. Hitchcock said that pepper pairs well with salads alongside vegetables, but a pinch of salt is a critical component of a seasoned salad to help bring out all flavors. “It doesn’t have the flavor explosion if it’s missing salt and pepper,” Hitchcock said. On the contrary, Foodies takes a different approach. Though its salads still use pepper and spices, Hilger believes that salt isn’t needed when there are enough original flavors that come together. He credits people’s distaste for the sodium content in salt as another reason his restaurant skips this step. Whereas Modern Love believes in using more salt than pepper, Smith said the salty flavors should come from salt itself or something else. Though the restaurant doesn’t season its salads directly, Smith said if the dressing lacks a salty component, it should be made up for in the ingredients to balance the flavors. 

Many integral elements make up the perfect salad, whether it’s the crisp, leafy greens or the crunchy slivers of almonds lightly cascaded in a creamy dressing. As a restaurant solely focusing on salads, Clever Greens credits the health movement for its salad concept. Describing the restaurant’s offerings as an “elevated salad experience,” Hitchcock said his goal is to leave people feeling energized, nourished, and ready to take on the day. For Foodies, freshness is king in a salad’s presentation and ingredients. Hilger noted that a salad should travel beyond simply dumping a bag of lettuce onto a plate; rather, the aroma of freshly cut produce and captivating colors should entice one for a crisp bite. “You should never feel like you have to eat a salad—you should enjoy it.” Hilger said. Whereas Smith agreed that it’s important to dress your salad, the Modern Love chef also emphasized the importance of balancing flavors and using quality ingredients. Despite the restaurant only having two salad offerings on its menu, Smith noted that it takes more than one ingredient to craft a salad, and each component plays a significant role in dishing the most delectable salad. 

Surely, salads can offer a variety of health benefits and serve as a satisfying starter or side dish. But the endless options of toppings and dressings coupled with the freshest flavors are what make these mixed medleys an enticing experience. Often mischaracterized, the sought-after salad travels beyond a bowl of greens and tomatoes and offers sensational taste explosions with every crunch, color, and tasty bite.

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