It’s time to dive into the healthy array of local salad buffets
Here in Santa Cruz County, we are privileged to have farm-fresh greens year-round. Making a nightly salad at home is a snap since the emergence of pre-washed greens, and vinaigrette dressing is made easily with your favorite vinegar and small spoon of Dijon mustard whisked with a bit of olive oil.
I find, though, that as the days lengthen and sunshine bathes emerging emerald shoots, I’m no longer content with salad as a side dish, but instead crave a vernal vegetarian feast with all the trimmings.
The benefit of such buffets is that you can pile on so many different ingredients which each bring a unique set of nutrients and beneficial chemicals to the table. Two tablespoons of roasted, salted sunflower seeds offer 40 percent of daily vitamin E, two cups of spinach provide 20 percent of vitamin C, much of which is lost when cooked, as well as 40 percent of vitamin A and 300 percent of vitamin K, both of which help the body metabolize vitamin D which is necessary for absorption of calcium. A 5-inch spear of raw broccoli adds another 40 percent of vitamin C. Vegetables, the more colorful the better, also provide a vast array of minerals, phytochemicals which detoxify the body, and antioxidants which reduce cell damage. It’s the dressings that can make a salad more caloric than a Big Mac, so as one who needs to worry about such things, I try to go easy on those.
There are numerous strategies for plating at a salad bar. I like to load the greens first, and drizzle with a thin vinaigrette-style dressing. Selected vegetables make a ring around the plate, along with a ladle of creamy blue cheese or ranch dressing (typically about two tablespoons) for dipping them in. I then use numerous other treats as toppings.
Mollie’s Country Kitchen sets up a salad bar six days a week, which includes two kinds of house-made soup, baked potatoes and the honorary food group, house-made dessert ($8.50). I began with a plate of mixed greens topped with sesame oil-flavored Oriental dressing before choosing from the 20 or so embellishments. I added kidney beans, garbanzo beans and a 3-bean salad with carrot, red bell peppers and red onions, slices of hard-boiled egg, and crumbled blue cheese for protein, and surrounded them with wedges of fresh tomato, cucumber slices, pickled beets and artichoke hearts, adding a touch of blue cheese dressing on the side, and topping with a few walnut halves.
Not quite full after this delightful trip to the buffet, I served myself an excellent cup of chicken tortilla soup. Big chunks of white meat lay under a rich broth, and I added a bit of sour cream, shaved cheddar, and crisp strips of fried tortillas before returning to my table.
For the finale I chose sweet strawberries and watermelon from the well-stocked fruit tray, as well as chocolate pudding with whipped topping drizzled with chocolate syrup, and a parfait of whipped topping and sweet, large-pearl tapioca pudding.
Mollie’s Country Cafe, 219 Mt. Hermon Rd., Scotts Valley, 438-8313. Open Monday and Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., and Sundays from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Visit molliescafe.com
At Carpo’s salad bar in Soquel, choose from two dozen fresh and house-made ingredients and dressings ($7.75 or $5.99 with a meal). I helped myself to some crisp romaine with slivers of red cabbage as well as a helping of mixed baby lettuces, adding a bit of Italian dressing. Chunky toppings included peeled cucumbers, crimini mushrooms, and sweet roasted red beets. I added a dollop of tart blue cheese dressing. Toppings were plentiful including firm grape tomatoes, garbanzo and kidney beans, bright grated carrots, salted sunflower seeds, and minced hard boiled eggs. Other options included yogurt with fresh fruit, a nice jicama-corn relish, macaroni salad, and a toothsome, spiced barley salad.
It was served with a side of pillowy bread with a thick crust studded with five kinds of seeds. I also enjoyed real brewed iced tea from the beverage bar ($2).
Carpo’s Restaurant, 2400 Porter St., Soquel, 476-6260. Open daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Visit Carposrestaurant.com.
The Granddaddy of our local salad bar scene is at the Crow’s nest, which was one of my grandma’s favorite lunch spots. The beautifully displayed bounty is surrounded by a recently upgraded wood and glass enclosure. If you wake up with a hankering for raw veggies, it is stocked by the time you show up for breakfast ($9.95, $10.95 with a cup of chowder or soup, or $5.95 with an entrée).
I sprinkled a couple of cups of soft spinach with sweet balsamic vinaigrette and proceeded to pick out colorful complements. Crunchy sweet jicama, miniature carrots, pickled beets, plump peperoncinis and hearts of palm encircled the greens. I dipped raw celery, cauliflower and broccoli in herbed ranch dressing, and topped it all with minced egg, real bacon, blue cheese, rings of red onion and sunflower seeds.
The Crow’s Nest Restaurant, 2218 E Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz, 476-4560. Open daily at 7:30 a.m. Visitcrowsnest-santacruz.com.