Can I ask a really dumb question? Well, I’m going to anyway…
What ever happened to the classic “Mad Men salad”?
Whenever you order a “side salad” these days (and almost always for an extra fee – back in the day, it CAME WITH THE MEAL), you usually get a large chilled bowl – usually ceramic and white – filled with all kinds of plants (weeds) you barely recognize, along with a few recognizable veggies – carrots, onion, tomato – and almost always some artsy fartsy dressing on the side.
When I was a kid, salad was much simpler. You went to a steakhouse (or virtually any restaurant really, this was the 1960s and 1970s, remember, the era of “Mad Men”, hence my nickname for it), ordered your meal, and your waitress would ask you what kind of dressing you wanted on your salad. It always came about five minutes later. And it was a glorious sight – a small brown bowl, usually made of bamboo or coated brown pressboard, filled with ice cold, crispy iceberg lettuce chopped just right, a few shreds of red cabbage (you know, the purple stuff), a few shredded carrots on top, a slice or two of radish, a tomato wedge or two, maybe a cucumber wedge or slice, and a ladle or two full of your dressing already on the salad right in the middle. If you were a REALLY fancy restaurant (usually the tables had tablecloths), you also might be lucky and have some sliced onion or an olive or two, and/or croutons on the salad as well.
That was it. And that’s all we needed. And we ate it and we declared it GOOD.
And back then, you often had a choice of just four or five simple dressings out of the basic eight or so popular varieties – oil and vinegar, Italian, Caesar, French, Russian, Thousand Island, and maybe if you’re in a fancy restaurant, Roquefort. Then in the 1970s, Ranch was added to that equation, usually replacing Russian. And NONE of them were served “on the side”.
You show me a single friggin’ restaurant today that has anything but the first two of these plus Ranch (or a variant). They’re practically non-existent. And even those first two classics are being supplanted of late by fancy schmanchy versions like Balsamic vinegrette and the like. Do you know that these days outside of a true steakhouse it’s virtually impossible to find French and Thousand Island dressing anymore? Trust me I’ve tried. And Roquefort has become “Blue Cheese” (which in itself is wrong – it should be ‘bleu cheese’) and is much harsher and chunkier than the smooth bite of classic Roquefort. I still eat it, but I’d rather have the original. Try to find the original today…it CANNOT be found anywhere – trust me, I’ve TRIED…it’s impossible…
So tell me: When did the classic delicious “Mad Men salad” become todays’ often inedible weed-filled “side salad”?
I blame all the earthy, crunchy, brown rice Hippies of the 1970s, who were into “healthy food”. They started experimenting and found all the varieties of lettuce and related leafy plants that they loved – romaine (for the record, this stuff SUCKS as a salad), arugula, frisie (or however it’s spelled, and this stuff is also nasty, way too bitter for my tastes), baby spinach – and they started forcing it onto the masses.
Then foodies started experimenting and decided they wanted more than just the basic dressings . And while I love a lot of the various dressings out there that aren’t traditional – Creamy Cucumber and Creamy Bacon Ranch are my favorites – it would be nice to have a choice of the original classic dressings as well. But you can’t find most of them anymore outside of a true steakhouse. Longhorn Steakhouse still has Thousand Island, but it’s not the classic mix, and way too sweet for my taste.
Anyway, then the two groups above combined their forces in the late 1970s to create something called “the salad bar”, one of the best, and yet most evil, creations ever to be wrought on the food world. The salad bar corrupted the simple side salad forever; at least one whole restaurant chain that I know of (Souper Salad) has made a living out of gigantic salad bars with hundreds of items available for you to throw into their gigantic bowls. I was in my late teens when they became the “latest thing”, and I remember when the café in our small town installed their salad bar, which was used only on Saturday nights. You could pile the large wooden bowl high with all the usual stuff, plus egg, garbonzo beans (aka chickpeas), mushrooms (both fresh raw AND marinated if you were lucky),bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, fresh cheeses, red beans, kidney beans, ham, chicken, tuna, and about 20 other items. MMMMMM….
The salad bar did not catch on everywhere – you can barely find them up here in the northeast except at the previously mentioned fast food salad chain; in Ohio, when I was there, they were standard with the meal.
BUT – you could also usually order it AS a meal, and they charged you a large salad price for it – and the restaurant trade smelled the cha-CHING and went for the idea of charging for “side salad”. Which is why I blame the salad bar for the demise of the complimentary “Mad Men salad” with practically every meal served up to it’s advent.
I bring all this up, because one day last week for lunch I ordered a garden salad with just lettuce and onions with grilled chicken on it. The lettuce was filled with the standard iceberg for a change – usually the café in the building uses romaine (bleah!) – but also loaded with arugula, which is fine if you like it (I do, but not as much as they used) and tons of chicken as requested. But it would have been nice to order a garden salad, and just get the typical “Mad Men salad”. That’s usually all I’m looking for. And these days, you almost can’t find it anymore…
::sigh:: Sometimes I think I’m getting old…