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Giving salad a fresh spin

The 50-foot salad bar at Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes is a big draw for guests who come to create customized salads. But the 125-unit chain also offers four varying “recipe” salads tossed fresh every 20 minutes in exhibition kitchens at each location. The most recent of these is the Grilled Steakhouse Salad.

Start with the steak

With salad makings always in inventory, the culinary team focused on differentiating with the protein. “It’s the first time we used steak as a salad component,” notes Joan Scharff, VP of brand and menu strategy.
The chain works with a vendor to source a proprietary lean beef chuck steak, thinly sliced, pre-seasoned with visible char marks. The idea was to tie the salad into grilling season.

Match the greens

A blend of slightly bitter arugula and crisp romaine is the salad base. When it comes to sourcing greens and other produce, “we work directly with our farmer partners to find out what’s in season and in good supply,” explains Scharff. Trinity Produce serves as a liaison between the restaurants and farmers to facilitate sourcing.

Toss in bold flavors

Aside from seasonal availability, flavor profile is the ideation driver, Scharff stresses. “Sweet heat” roasted pecans and caramelized yellow onions—both made in house—offered spicy and sweet toasty notes, as did roasted red peppers. Crumbled gorgonzola cheese provided an assertive counterpoint and a sherry-shallot vinaigrette, a mellow acidity.

Yays and nays

R&D knew they wanted a blue cheese and tried a few, but the slightly sweeter, creamier gorgonzola hit the mark. The team also experimented with a balsamic vinaigrette, but the sherry-shallot was more subtle and a better fit.

All things potato

October is Potato Month at the chain. The salad bar includes Tarragon Chicken & Arugula Salad with Crispy Potato Sticks, Roasted Potato Focaccia and Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Cream Butter. The buffet is $8.69 at lunch and $10.29 at dinner, which includes tossed-to-order recipe salads.

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