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Central Standard

Food Critics: The Best Salads In Kansas City

Keith McDuffee/Flickr -- CC

Poor salad. It’s often dismissed as an unnecessary stomach-filler, consisting of anemic lettuce, a cucumber slice, bits of tomato and cheese and topped with gloppy dressing.

But when it’s good, it’s absolutely delicious. Salads showcase the best of summer produce. They can be breathtaking simple to make, especially the dressing (shake up an acid, an oil and flavoring in a jar).

Salads can be hearty and they can be made in bulk for a crowd during cookout season.

Our food critics go beyond iceberg lettuce to search out the best salads in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • Cobb salad: The lobster Cobb salad at the Bristol Seafood Grill is a wonderful entrée-sized salad that’s offered on the dinner menu. Peppery bites of watercress and arugula, baby spinach, tomato, Applewood-smoked bacon, white cheddar, avocado, corn, red onion, sweet potato shoestrings, and tender pieces of lobster, drizzled with buttermilk tarragon ranch dressing. It’s like eating a lobster roll without the bun.
  • Salad bar: Espirito do Sul, a Brazilian steakhouse, offers something that most of the other steakhouses do not: the hot and cold salad bar all-in-one. It’s called the Harvest Table (available at lunch and dinner), and, in fact, if that’s all you want, that’s all you have to order. Skip the rodizo experience if you like, but enjoy the crisp salad with hearts of palms, fresh vegetables, cheeses and salad dressings. The hot bar has the more traditional Brazilian dishes like rice, farofa, feijoada, collard greens, coconut fish, “grandmother’s chicken soup” and more.
  • Shared salad: There are three salads offered on the menu at Krokstrom Klubb at dinner, lunch and brunch that are meant for sharing. There’s the Figgy Green Bean salad, with green beans, toasted walnuts and Danish blue cheese (which isn’t too strong), dressed beautifully with a sweet fig-based dressing. There’s also the Lavender Beet (red and golden cooked beets on top of lavender goat cheese with orange and petit greens) and the Creamy Carrot (colorful carrot ribbons, horseradish cream, Aquavit-soaked golden raisins and pickled onions).
  • Vegetarian salad: The 8 Color salad at Spin has over eight different vegetables with eight different colors. This is my guilt-free salad, and I order it every time I go in there. Crispy romaine lettuce, red cabbage, red butter lettuce, roasted grape tomatoes, radishes, celery, scallions, gorgonzola (not technically a vegetable, but counts as a color?), toasted pine nuts and tossed with red wine vinaigrette.
  • Caesar: Happy Gillis has a kale Caesar with white anchovy, Grana Padano cheese and garlic breadcrumbs. It does have the filet of anchovy on top and it’s just a really wonderful twist on a Caesar.
  • Guilty pleasure salad: At Sushi Uni, a tiny sushi place off 87th Street, they offer small bowls of a traditional spicy kani salad as an amuse-bouche for free. I eat all of mine, and end up eating my son’s, and I end up not being hungry for my sushi. It is made with imitation crab meat, cucumber, seaweed salad, tempura flakes or panko bread crumbs. The dressing is creamy and spicy, and it is an addictive guilty pleasure.
  • Dessert salad: Gram & Dun serves a sweet and savory salad that calls my name. The goat salad has herbed goat cheese, arugula, smoked garlic edamame, candied orange, banana bread croutons and sweet maple red onion vinaigrette.

Lisa Murphy, food blogger:

  • The butter lettuce salad at Pizzabella is the perfect light accompaniment to their wood-fired pizzas. It’s composed of whole leaves of butter lettuce, sliced radishes, pickled onion slivers, lemon thyme dressing and Parmesan cheese. It’s vegetarian ordered as-is, and vegan without the Parmesan cheese.
  • Michael Smith’s Extra Virgin offers two of my favorite summertime salads. (The menu changes seasonally.) First is the cucumber peanut salad, which is diced cucumbers, peanuts, Israeli couscous (the big couscous; it’s plump and juicy), red onion and parsley in a cumin vinaigrette. This salad is made to order so the couscous can be left out for gluten-free eaters. It’s wonderful on their patio with a nice glass of rosé. It’s amazing; it’s just fresh, light.
  • I also love Extra Virgin’s Greek salad. Although not traditionally Greek (real Greeks don’t eat lettuce in their salads), it’s crisp and delicious. It includes romaine lettuce, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red onion, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese in a tangy red wine vinaigrette. This salad is vegetarian, or the kitchen will add grilled shrimp, chicken or hanger steak.
  • Kale citrus salad at Füd: raw kale, avocado, currants, coconut chips, Parmesan seed (plant-based Parmesan cheese), microgreens and citrus-sage dressing. As with everything on Füd’s menu, this salad is vegan.
  • The kale salad at Westside Local is always a favorite. Kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, slivered almonds, Parmesan cheese and fried shallots are tossed in a rich maple tahini dressing. It comes with brown sugar bacon on the top that is easily omitted to make it vegetarian. For meat or fish eaters, chicken or salmon can be added.
  • The seaweed salad from Cosentino’s Downtown Market is always fresh and refreshing. It’s admittedly not made in-house (apparently as with most sushi bars) so they couldn’t guarantee whether the salad is safe for vegetarians or not.
  • The salad bar at either of the Whole Foods locations is full of delicious, healthy and vegetarian-friendly choices, including a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and grains, different raw lettuces and greens, as well as plenty of prepared salads.
  • The Unbakery and Juicery usually has two salads available for takeaway. I love their kale Caesar, which has both kale and romaine greens, vegan Parmesan, goji berries and preserved lemons, all dressed in a cashew-based Caesar dressing.
  • Perennial vegetarian favorite Eden Alley offers several fantastic vegan and vegetarian salads that are hearty and filling enough to be enjoyed as a main course. You can make your own there, but one of my favorites is their vegan Garnets and Greens salad, which is assorted field greens, baby beets, candied walnuts, slivers of red onions and agave poppy seed vinaigrette.
  • Café Gratitude’s “Gorgeous” is a large café salad with mixed greens, carrots, kale, cucumber, mint, basil, apples, figs and hemp seeds with a sesame-wasabi dressing. The entire menu at Café Gratitude is plant-based, so this salad is vegan. They offer several additions (for an additional charge) to all of their salads, such as avocado, house-made kimchi and buckwheat or flax crackers. The add-in options make the salad a little bit more hearty and you don’t feel like you’ve been presented with a plate of garnish.
  • I’m pescatarian, and Pierpont’s makes a real nice traditional Caesar salad. It definitely has the sharp flavors of the anchovy and some nice croutons.

Charles Ferruzza, The Pitch:

  • The Ménage a Trois salad at Café Provence is a very sexy salad. It has a celery root remoulade with capers, parsley, broccolini, parsley, hard-boiled egg and shallot vinaigrette. It’s an untraditional salad and not very heavy; it’s actually very light and you won’t feel guilty having it with a nice heavy entrée or a nice heavy dessert.
  • The Caesar salad at Jasper’s Restaurant. So few "Caesar" salads served in Kansas City restaurants bear little, if any, resemblance to Caesar Cardini's original recipe: pieces of romaine lettuce and croutons (decent croutons, not the hard, pebbly variety that come in industrial-sized boxes) tossed in a dressing prepared from parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce and black pepper. The original recipe did not contain canned anchovies or anchovy paste. The subtle hint of anchovies came from the Worcestershire sauce, which includes anchovies among its many ingredients.
  • The sliced steak salad at Brio Tuscan Grille is the “best salad as a meal.” I’m not one who usually orders a salad as a main dish (unless I’m completely goaded into it), but it’s heavy on the grilled tenderloin, which I like. It also has a lot of interesting variations of taste: creamy horseradish, spicy pecans, Gorgonzola and tomatoes all on top of tricolor lettuce. It’s a nice, heavy salad.

Listener recommendations:

  • My favorite Caesar’s salad is at Lidia’s. It has all the flavor and not too much anchovy, and a good mix of all the spices.
  • Whole Foodshas a delicious garlicky kale salad on their buffet! And the Overland Park Farmers’ Markethas delicious baby kale that is good in salads.
  • My sister loves the salad at Jun's and I like the salad at Tatsu's, especially the dressing.
  • The Betty Bailey Berry Salad at Eden Alley!
  • The Ocean Breeze salad at Enjoy. I love to get a salad that feels like a meal. It’s fantastic; it has capers (not the little ones in a jar), a lemon-olive oil dressing, tuna, white beans, arugula … it’s really, really good.
  • The roasted beet salad at Cucina della Ragazza. It’s a really great arugula-based salad with roasted beets, blue cheese and walnuts. You can also get chicken or a really tasty light Italian tuna salad on it. What I like about it is it’s just fresh and it’s very lightly-dressed so it’s really crisp. I have it for lunch several days a week.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.