Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Salad days are here again

It has been a busy time, here in Philadelphia. Amidst sautéing peppers and onions, boiling Brussels sprouts, and braising kale (so good!), I started a new job. I should say, an additional job. In addition to my boring office job, I have embarked on a part-time job in the Café, near the university I work at.

This isn’t just any café, like Starbucks or even Bucks County Coffee (a local chain here in PA). There are, at the moment, only 2 locations, both located in the University City area of West Philly or in Center City (a third is slated to open in June). It centers around Italian-style sandwiches and made-to-order salads. There’s also an espresso bar, to fuel the caffeine addiction of the student body. The owner is a local man, and he’s super nice and committed to producing a good product for his customers. And get this: the Café uses all natural and organic products, including free range chicken, organic dressings, and locally produced cheeses. Even the chips and snack foods they sell are natural. This Café is pretty serious about patronizing independent businesses. Be still, my beating heart.

I’ve only worked a couple of shifts—but the other employees are friendly, the restaurant busy, and the tasks generally pretty easy. I have years of food service experience behind me and it actually feels good to get back to it. Tying my hair up in a bandana, throwing on an apron, dashing to and fro with precariously balanced containers in my hands. You’ll most likely find me behind the counter throwing sandwiches on to the grill to heat them up (and burning my fingers as well) or making salads as huge waves of people roll in from the semi-Arctic January air.

Here’s how we make salads: people pick up a container of either romaine or spring mix from the shelves and a little slip of paper. They then circle the ingredients they want, the type of dressing, and whether they want it tossed or chopped and for here or to go. We have your normal salad fixings—carrots, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese. And we also have really exciting ingredients: ricotta salata, Portobello mushrooms, balsamic chicken, chick peas, lentils, capers, mango, dried pineapple, soy nuts, beets, radishes, and pepperocinis. That’s not all. The salad dressings are absolutely divine—a universal favorite is the rosemary balsamic vinaigrette, but the thai sesame lime and the soy ginger are quite popular as well. I can’t help but critique people’s choices in salad fixings—it really is great fun. There’s the guys who want both kinds of chicken and cheddar cheese with romaine, and the girls who want spring mix, chick peas, and lentils with no dressing at all. Then there’s everything in the middle. The combinations that people come up with! Whew—it is almost exhausting to think about.

The thing I just cannot wrap my around is chopped salads. A light chop, sure, I get that. But some of these people (girls—mostly young, college aged women, to be honest) want these things chopped within an inch of their salad-y lives. Suddenly, what was looking like a very pleasant salad with fresh mozzarella and chicken has been turned into a strange looking mass of tiny pieces of unidentifiable food. My coworkers said it’s a pretty major fad in the salad world. I don’t think I understand it. Any insights, my loyal readers?


angeldeep said...

um, thai sesame lime?! sounds divine!
i must have some next i am in the neighborhood

Weezie said...

I could absolutely try a chopped salad. It's never even crossed my mind before. But not little, itty-bitty unidentifiable bits. I like to know what I'm eating (as I know you do, especially when mushrooms may be involved).