The fast food salad is too frequently a dubious concoction. A wolf in sheep's clothing, as it were. It's a plastic bowl stuffed with generic greens, anemic tomatoes and typically topped with crispy, i.e. deep-fried, chicken strips. At larger, sit-down restaurants the salad may be one of two things. It may be a scant few mouthfuls of iceberg lettuce, a prelude to a meat-centered entrée. Or, it may be a meal unto itself, brimming with innovative ingredients and unexpected flavour combinations. Unfortunately, the latter usually carries a hefty price tag. Thus, options for salads-as-meals were sharply divided: delicious and expensive or nasty and cheap. Nasty and expensive options do exist, but a far luckier find is delicious and cheap. Such a find is the Greenhouse Salads, a new addition to the university area.
The Greenhouse shares its quarters with the Good Earth Café, a coffee house now firmly established in the hearts of campus-going coffee-quaffers. It's a few steps south of HUB Mall's incessant bustle, and offers leafy creations hitherto unknown in these parts. It bills itself as a gourmet but healthy salad bar, and the long line of lunch-goers jockeying for position at the till bodes well. While several soups are available, salads are naturally the menu's focus. One may create a custom salad or order à la carte. Each salad option is cleverly named and features both protein (with options for vegetarians) and greens, with a generous smattering of fruits, cheeses, nuts and seeds.
I've a terrible weakness for smoked salmon, so the Guilt Free salad ($8 regular, $12 large) is an easy choice. Aside from smoked salmon, it features strawberries and blueberries as well as toasted almonds, goat cheese, shredded carrots and mixed greens. My fellow gastronome orders Sleepless in Seattle ($8.50 regular, $12.50 large), swayed by the promise of prawns, scallops and red peppers. We wait before the glassed-in salad assembly line, a fast-paced kaleidoscope of colourful ingredients and nimble chefs. A sizzle and a tongue of flame erupt from the grill. A handful of crimson tomato wedges go here. A dusting of feta alights on a bed of greens like a gentle snowfall. The wait is over in no time.
Guilt Free is a hillock of mixed greens—romaine, endive, arugula—topped with long shreds of carrot, fragrant almonds, slices of berries that hint of long-ago summer, crumbles of goat cheese and a much-anticipated rosette of smoked salmon. It progresses like an archaeological dig: one moves through upper strata of cheese and carrot to reveal hidden nuggets of nuts and berries, then a few digs deeper uncover the greens resplendent in a red wine vinaigrette. The salmon is just a bonus, for the dish would work even without it. A nest of baby spinach cradles chubby scallops and prawns in Sleepless in Seattle. It's a heartier, but by no means heavier dish. The crustaceans take on new depth of flavour from tendrils of red pepper and an espresso-spiked glaze that hints, rather than smacks, of java. It could do without the feta cheese, which lends a whisper of too much salt, but it's delicious and utterly satisfying.
Yogurt is the dessert of choice. Like the salads, it may be customized with fruit, nuts or chocolate. I rarely turn down dessert, but this time I am content to search for the last few slivers of almond hiding under the radicchio and contemplate the surroundings. The screech of coffee grinders from the neighbouring Good Earth Café and the din of multiple layers of conversation make it somewhat difficult to sustain conversation. Cheery lime green and salsa red walls stenciled with intricate floral designs seem to play off the palette of colour present in each salad. The staff is unfailingly friendly and is a treat to watch when they assemble salads, which taste far more expensive than they actually are. They are the rare intersection of delicious and cheap. The entire salad experience is an unexpected treat in a sea of donairs and cheeseburgers, like finding the last fragrant almond under the last leaf of lettuce. V
Mon – Sun (11 am – 7 pm)
The Greenhouse Salads
8623 – 112 St