Oh, how I miss those restaurant relics that once were standard freebies at all kinds of sit-down restaurants.
Crudite platters that held chilled vegetables and black olives. I haven’t seen one in years.
Endless bread baskets. Those are getting harder to find.
Free dessert with the purchase of an entree. I can name just three in the county offering that.
It sometimes feels as if the once ubiquitous salad bar is headed for the “things-we-miss” list.
For the past year, I’ve searched for salad bars at locally owned restaurants (not chain pizza joints or grocery stores— I don’t write about those).
I found four sit-down restaurants, all with table service, three of which still give a freebie trip through a salad bar with an entree purchase.
I’ve also included, for you in-and-out diners, two locally-owned delis with outstanding salad bars that make for quick and nutritious eating.
Speaking of nutritious, a salad can pack on as much fat and calories as a burger, so watch the high-fat dressings and calorie-dense foods that don’t boost a salad’s nutritional value (I’m looking at you, crunchy chow mein noodles).
Sit-down restaurants with salad bars
Aversano’s Italian Restaurant
6015 Parker Road E., Sumner; 253-863-3618, aversanos.com.
Rating: Best value for all you can eat, plus best selection of flavorful prepared salads (picnic, pasta, potato salads, etc.).
While restaurants have shed salad bars, Aversano’s owner Steve Slack expanded his.
“It is a pretty labor intensive thing to offer. That’s why I believe a lot of places aren’t offering it anymore. They’ll give you a simple salad and call it good. We cut all our vegetables and make all the salads,” he said.
A full-time staffer continually stocks the salad bar at the Italian joint that’s been around since 1977 (Slack bought the restaurant in 1995 from founders Bill and Neva Aversano).
Besides brick-oven pizza and value-priced pasta, the restaurant’s real strength is the plethora of prepared salads on its salad bar built into an antique coal cart.
There’s the onion-y creamy macaroni picnic salad. A red potato salad with a sweet relish-mayonnaise dressing that’s Slack’s grandmother’s recipe. “That’s the one she brought to all the picnics, and we just kept it going,” he said.
Don’t miss the pea salad. A corkscrew pasta salad carried a clingy creamy pesto dressing and a linguini pasta salad was slick with a garlicky vinaigrette and dotted with halved grape tomatoes.
Price: One free trip on a dinner plate with pasta/entree purchase; all you can eat for $6.99. Salad bar offered at lunch and dinner.
Prepared salads: 7 standard. Best on the tour for assembled salads.
Vegetables: 11. Spring lettuce mix, romaine-iceberg lettuce mix, black olives, red onions, sliced tomatoes, broccoli, baby corn, pepperoncinis, cucumbers, mushrooms and beets.
Proteins: Sliced hard boiled eggs.
Dressings: 8. Raspberry vinaigrette, honey mustard, Thousand Island, ranch, blue cheese, Italian, sweet red French, balsamic vinaigrette. Plus oil and vinegar.
Toppings: House-made croutons, Goldfish crackers, sunflower seeds.
Pine Cone Cafe
7912 27th St. W., University Place; 253-565-5690, pineconecafe.net.
Rating: Best salad bar for grandma-style/church potluck-style prepared salads, but a finger wag for the tiny one-trip plate.
Pine Cone Cafe’s lure is its stuck-in-time sensibility. The floral wallpaper border, cheerful fabric flowers and swirly green tablecloths scream grandma chic. Stick-to-your-ribs breakfasts share menu space with diner classics blanketed in gravy.
Pine Cone’s other super power is the wood-paneled salad bar that’s been a staple since before Steve Warp bought the restaurant in 1986.
Prepared salads tasted straight out of a Sunday church potluck.
Thick-cut bacon added smoky heft to pea salad with a mayo dressing. Red pepper dressed up a creamy red potato salad. A cucumber-tomato salad with an astringent vinaigrette is a summer-only offering.
Macaroni salad was just as you’d find at a picnic: big cubes of ham and a pickle-green onion-mayonnaise dressing speckled with black pepper. Ambrosia salad was studded with sweet bits of pineapple, coconut and mandarin oranges suspended in marshmallow fluff held together with sour cream.
My one peeve for the one-time-through trip was the tiny plate. My solution: go vertical. “We have lots of mounders,” said Warp. “It’s amazing how much people can get on a small plate.”
Price: One free trip with the purchase of select entrees. All you can eat is $8.75 (with a larger plate), $10.50 with soup. Salad bar service begins at 4 p.m.
Prepared salads: 6.
Vegetables: 5. Iceberg mix lettuce, cherry tomatoes, dill pickle chips, beets, black olives.
Proteins: Cheddar cheese, garbanzo beans.
Dressings: 6. House-made blue cheese, Thousand Island, ranch, Italian, honey mustard, balsamic vinaigrette.
Toppings: Croutons, sunflower seeds.
Charlie’s Restaurant and Lounge
113 E. Main, Puyallup; 253-845-0588, charliesofpuyallup.com.
Rating: Cleanest on tour, with best weekly special salad bar deal.
Like ball boys or girls at a tennis match, Charlie’s staffers tended the salad bar as if a stray radish could cause an Olympic upset.
A trail of lettuce was snatched up right away. A stray crouton barely bounced across the carpet before it was scooped up. It was the best tended salad bar of my tour.
Charlie’s is one of those timeless restaurants with a terrific breakfast and American classics for a fair price. The salad bar is a holdover of the previous owners. Co-owner Teresa Suprak said it will always remain a fixture.
“Our diners love it,” she said. “I think nowadays, people, they want to know where the ingredients are coming from, and with a salad bar, they can look at the ingredients. They can see how fresh they look. They can build their own masterpiece.”
Price: One trip free with purchase of select entrees. Or, add on a trip for $3.99 with any meal that doesn’t already include the salad bar. One trip is $7.99 with a roll. All you can eat with soup and roll, $11.99. Tuesday bargain special is $7.99 for salad bar, soup and roll. Salad bar daily at lunch and dinner.
Prepared salads: 4. Jell-O, pasta salad, bean and potato salad.
Vegetables: 12. Spinach, green lettuce mix, peas, chopped tomatoes, cubed radishes, baby corn, green peppers, red onions, cucumber slices, baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, pepperoncinis.
Fruit: Grape clusters.
Proteins: 5. Cubed ham, cottage cheese, diced hard boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, garbanzo beans.
Dressings: 8. House-made buttermilk blue cheese, ranch, Thousand Island, balsamic vinaigrette, raspberry walnut, honey mustard, French, low calorie Italian. Plus oil and vinegar.
Toppings: House-made croutons, sunflower seeds.
Louie G’s Pizza
5219 Pacific Highway E., Fife; 253-926-9700, louiegspizza.com.
Rating: Best all-you-can-eat lunch deal, which includes pizza.
Prepare to leave Louie G’s Pizza reeking of garlic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The pizza joint also serves pasta, sandwiches and terrific calzones in addition to its weekday pizza-and-salad bar.
Kate McDonough and husband Peter Kesling bought the restaurant in March and haven’t made many changes, except to a few recipes.
“I’ve tweaked a few of the salads. I added more spices and changed some of the flavor combinations and added a few kicks of spice from red pepper flakes,” said McDonough, who used to run Pioneer Bakery in Puyallup.
That tweak of spice showed up in the salad bar’s marinated mushroom salad, a vinegar-splashed, herb-laden salad. The Italian pasta salad tasted heavy on garlic and onion, a little lighter on vinegar, but with a fantastic texture only a fresh salad will carry.
Price: $10 all-you-can-eat pizza and salad bar (11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Tuesday-Friday), $3.99 one-trip as entree add-on, $6.99 for single trip with no entree, $9.99 regular all you can eat. Salad bar at lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Prepared salads: 3. Italian pasta, marinated mushroom and marinated garbanzo beans with roasted red peppers. Also, chocolate pudding and occasionally fruit.
Vegetables: 11. Green salad mix, spinach, cucumbers, baby corn, carrots, pepperoncinis, broccoli, beets, peas, red onions, radishes (and occasionally black olives).
Proteins: Cottage cheese, shredded cheddar.
Dressings: 5. Honey mustard, Thousand Island, Italian, ranch, blue cheese. Plus oil and vinegar.
Toppings: Bacon bits, sunflower seeds, croutons.
Marlene’s Natural Foods Market and Deli
2951 S. 38th St, Tacoma; 253-472-4080, marlenesmarket-deli.com.
Rating: Largest selection of organic ingredients, best for vegans, freshest vegetables.
This deli inside Tacoma’s most well-known natural foods store offers a broad selection of organic ingredients. “We strive for 35-40 percent organic. I would like to get it to 50 percent, and we’re working on it,” said Mary Walukiewicz, food service director for Marlene’s, which had 54 items on the salad bar on my visit.
Price: $8.79 a pound. Offered daily, morning through dinner.
Prepared salads: 3. Red potato salad with creamy dill dressing, corkscrew pasta with basil dressing and quinoa salad.
Vegetables: 21. Green leaf lettuce, spring mix lettuce, kale, whole leaf spinach, carrots, red cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, black olives, beets, red and green bell peppers, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, corn niblets, peas, pickled jalapenos, red onions, green onions, bean sprouts.
Fruit: Fruit salad with melon and grapes, also red grapes.
Proteins: 11. Seasoned tofu, cubed roasted turkey, sliced hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, four kinds of cheese, edamame, garbanzo beans, pinto beans.
Dressings: 8. Tahini, herbal vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, vegan Caesar, ranch, blue cheese, Oriental, ginger honey mustard. Plus oil and vinegar.
Toppings: 5. Sunflower seeds, garlic croutons, dried cranberries, spelt sticks, sliced almonds.
Extras: Seasoned beef or turkey taco meat, salsa, sour cream, tortilla chips.
Other eats: Scratch soups, hot and cold sandwiches, gluten-free and regular pizza.
4905 Pacific Highway E., Fife; 253-922-7250.
Rating: Best value for take-out salad, broad selection.
Sunny Kim’s part-time job might as well be chopping. She hand chops the ingredients for the assembled salads and does the morning prep work for her 50-item salad bar. She’s the owner of the quick sandwich-and-salad lunch stop, Deli U.S.A.
Price: $6.99 a pound. Offered daily at lunch and dinner.
Prepared salads: 6. Broccoli salad, corkscrew salad, two penne pasta salads, suririmi (krab) salad, potato salad (commercially prepared).
Vegetables: 21. Iceberg, romaine, kale, spinach, artichoke hearts, corn niblets, baby corn, red onion, red peppers, baby carrots, cucumbers, peas, pepperoncinis, pickled jalapenos, mushrooms, black olives, grape tomatoes, cornichons, broccoli, beets, green pepper.
Fruit: 7. Red and green grapes, pineapple, honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries.
Proteins: 9. Garbanzo beans, kidney beans, whole hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, three cheeses, cubed ham, chopped chicken breast.
Dressings: 9. Thousand Island, Caesar, Greek, Italian, honey mustard, Thai ginger sesame, sugar-free raspberry vinaigrette, blue cheese, ranch. Plus oil and vinegar.
Toppings: Sunflower seeds, croutons, garlic toast, raisins.
Other eats: Deli sandwiches, tacos, fish and chips, rice bowls, baked goods, espresso.
Do you know of one?
Did I miss a salad bar at an independently owned (not a chain) restaurant in Pierce County? Let me know at 253-597-8270 or email@example.com.