I worry that salad bars at full-service restaurants long have been at risk for extinction.
That’s why when one opens — which seems to happen about once every five years around here — I want to get the vital salad information to the people right away.
Napoli Italiano, a family-friendly Italian restaurant that opened in March in South Hill, added its shiny, new salad bar a few weeks ago.
Not counting chain restaurants — I don’t write about those or their salad bars — only a handful of locally owned table-service restaurants still offer salad bars.
Aversano’s in downtown Sumner nails prepared salads on its salad bar. Fife’s Louie G’s Pizza has a salad bar with an attached pizza bar at lunch and a solo salad bar at dinner. Charlie’s in downtown Puyallup serves salad bar every day with an all-you-can-eat deal every Tuesday.
We lost a gem of a salad bar when the Pine Cone in University Place discontinued its, but Tim’s Kitchen in Orting might fill your need for a good diner with a daily salad bar.
I asked Napoli Italiano executive chef Nathaniel Cooper why so few salad bars remain when a generation ago they seemed so prolific.
Cooper had an easy answer: They’re expensive. Rules require frequent turnover of salad bar ingredients. Equipment is expensive and food waste prolific.
So they fell out of favor with restaurant owners.
But did they ever fall out of favor with diners?
“The reception I’ve seen is people say, ‘Oh wow, you have a salad bar.’ People are excited to see it, but over the years, people aren’t asking for it. They love it when it’s there, but it’s not something they’re going out and looking for anymore. It’s a lot like fine dining today. People love the concept of it, but they’re not really seeking it,” said Cooper.
So if you open it, will they come?
Yes, said Cooper. The restaurant has not advertised the salad bar much, but word-of-mouth recommendations have brought in diners ready to build their own.
Here’s a first look at the salad bar, plus dining notes based on two visits of the restaurant.
Restaurant musical chairs: The three restaurants that have operated in the space since 2016 are owned by Ramesh Kumar, who also runs Fiesta Taqueria in downtown Puyallup and Karma Indian Cuisine and Lounge in South Hill. One-year-old Roadrunner Bourbon and Burgers closed in May 2017 and spawned the cocktail destination Speakeasy Lounge, the bourbon bar that still operates in the same building. Karma moved there briefly, but it’s back in its original home.
New Napoli: The restaurant, like Roadrunner, aims for a slice of higher-end diners with linen tablecloths and entrees in the high teens to the $30s, a risky move in a community that seems fine-dining averse. However, a salad bar and pizza broaden the restaurant’s appeal to more diners.
Salad bar details: Dinner only (the restaurant doesn’t serve lunch). One trip is a $6 add-on to entrees. All-you-can-eat is $14 per person.
The lowdown: More than two dozen ingredients. Clean, kept at a cold temperature and fresh, crisp vegetables. High recommendation and at the top of my list for salad bars regionally.
Lettuce and vegetables on my visit: Romaine or mixed greens. Chopped bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli florets, baby corn, pepperoncinis, peas, garbanzo beans, carrots, sweet red peppers, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black olives, kalamata olives, beets, mushrooms and red onions.
Prepared salads: Potato salad and fresh fruit salad. Salads vary daily.
Proteins: Outstanding selection including chopped hard boiled eggs, blue cheese, shredded cheddar, diced salami, ham and pepperoni.
Dressings: Thousand Island, blue cheese, ranch, French style (vegan friendly), Caesar and Italian (vegan friendly). Toppings include sunflower seeds and croutons.
Ingredients: Will vary and do change.
More menu notes: Two visits found a kitchen still getting its sea legs. The menu includes 10 pasta choices ($14 to $26), about a half dozen entrees ($20 to $38) and around 10 pizzas ($14 to $24). Also find starters ($8 to $30), soup and salad ($6 to $14) and dessert ($10 to $12).
Chicken Parmesan tasted soggy due to waterlogged pasta and marinara ($21). Fettuccine di mare tasted light on seafood for the price ($26). I liked the presentation on the carbonara — al dente spaghetti, with peas, fresh Parmesan, pancetta and a poached egg plopped on top for a DIY stir-it-up sauce ($18).
I predict the real crowd-pleaser will be the vegetarian-friendly artichoke piccata with spaghetti, garlicky pesto, capers and white beans ($17). Margherita pizza yielded plenty of fresh basil, mozzarella and tomatoes but wanted more time in the oven to turn the beige crust closer to golden brown ($18).
Also try: Want in-and-out locally owned salad bars for the to-dine list? Check out the deli-style salad bar at Marlene’s Natural Foods Market (best in the region for its expansive offerings) or Deli U.S.A. in Fife.
Where: 10312 120th St. E., Puyallup
Info: 253-446-7016 or bit.ly/2psS5hy
Hours: 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Speakeasy Lounge: The attached bourbon lounge with an abbreviated menu similar to Napoli Italiano operates from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.