The Best Salads in Bloomington, Indiana
An ongoing review
What are the criteria for a good salad? I began reviewing Bloomington restaurant salads with the assumption that I would have to consider taste, of course, as well as color, variety of textures and flourishes like dried fruit, candied nuts and other vegetable protein. But some of the best salads I’ve had on this journey have been very simple affairs. A great salad does not need 20 kinds of greens along with avocado slices, cranberries and whipped feta. The key to a great salad is fresh and crisp lettuces. A few enhancements, such as pumpkin seeds, shaved parmesan or flavored tofu can elevate the the salad to a starring role in a meal.
In a previous review, I cautioned the reader against judging a restaurant by its veggie burgers. You may, however, judge a restaurant by its salads. Veggie burgers are often add-ons to a menu, but if a restaurant can’t get a salad right, what can they get right? And if they don’t bother to remove the disgusting, slimy pieces of greens from your salad plate, it’s an indication that they don’t have pride in the food they are serving or respect for the customers who are expected to eat it.
There are more than 350 restaurants in the Bloomington area. Therefore, expect this review to be updated as more salads are sampled.
Feast Market & Cellar
407 W Patterson Dr.
A cozy, upscale eatery that features an enormous, wide variety of wines by the bottle and the most enticingly beautiful desserts in Bloomington.
Pepita Salad (pictured at top of page): Available in two sizes, this is visually gorgeous and enjoyable to eat. With local greens, avocado, pickled carrot, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, shaved cabbage and radish, this is a pretty loaded salad. A little cracked red pepper gives it a bit of a kick. The greens are acceptably crunchy, though close to being a bit wimpy. Hopefully this was the last day for the current batch of greens and they will start fresh tomorrow. The tangy orange chipotle vinaigrette leans a bit into the vinegar, though not terribly so. The thinly sliced radishes elevate this salad to four kisses.
17 W Main St., Nashville, IN
Hobnob Corner is a family eatery in Nashville, Indiana, about a half-hour drive from Bloomington. Normally I wouldn’t include restaurants outside of Bloomington in a local review, but I wanted to make a point with this example.
Side Salad: This is a very simple mesclun salad with shaved cheese, red onions and croutons. But a good salad need not be loaded with fancy additions. What makes all the difference is the quality of ingredients. The incredibly fresh, crisp lettuces tell me that the Hobnob cares about what they serve their customers.
Hopscotch Coffee & Kitchen
235 W Dodds St., #102
Hopscotch sits on a marvelous walking and biking path called the B-line. The restaurant side of the business, open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, specializes in original vegetarian and vegan meals.
House Salad: This is not your standard “house salad.” A big bowl of shredded beets and carrots, walnuts, diced red pepper, croutons and (watch out vegans) ricotta are places in discreet piles on top of a bed of greens. It comes with a tasty balsamic dressing on the side. I don’t understand the theory behind the big scoop of ricotta cheese in the salad. Maybe goat cheese would be a tastier choice.
514 E Kirkwood Ave.
Lennie’s is a hopping pizza restaurant with an eclectic and inclusive menu that can satisfy vegetarian and vegan eaters. It’s located right by the campus of Indiana University, but with upstairs seating, there’s room enough for you to squeeze in between students.
I have been wary of salads from pizza joints ever since working at one (not Lennie’s), and seeing how “salads” were prepared by delivery drivers. They wouldn’t even remove their winter gloves when they reached into the bin of generic restaurant food supply lettuce, threw on a couple of cherry tomatoes, and crammed the thing into a box for delivery.
Although Lennie’s house salad is comprised of the same basic ingredients you’d expect from any pizza joint, fear not, for this restaurant clearly takes pride in their food.
House salad: Pickled red onions are a nice touch in this fresh and crispy salad mix Slivered almonds garnish the top. A fine salad.
419 E Kirkwood Ave.
Osteria Rago is a truly great Italian restaurant opened by the owners of Kilroy's on Kirkwood. Although the address is also listed as Kirkwood, it’s found at the intersection of alleys behind the Runcible Spoon, in the building that old-tyme Bloomingtonians will remember as the original location of Bloomingfoods.
Chopped Salad: A simple, chopped salad, just like the menu says. they will leave out the pancetta for us vegetarians. the salad was fresh and crunchy. Simple good.
The Owlery Restaurant
118 W 6th St.
Right on the downtown square sits Bloomington’s only sit-down vegetarian restaurant. Although the Owlery offers a few veggie bowls and other innovative vegetarian and vegan dishes, there are just two salads on the menu: side and cobb. I tried the side salad.
Side Salad: Basic, as one would expect of a side salad. Crunchy greens were not at peak freshness, but still good. Shredded root veggies were a nice touch. This salad earns a solid three kisses.
223 S Pete Ellis Dr.
A consistently fabulous Italian bakery, selling their goods in local stores and farmer’s markets, Piccoli Dolci opened up a weekend pop-up location on Pete Ellis Drive (hidden from street view, around the corner of a strip mall). They have now expanded it into a café open early in the day, Thursday through Sunday.
Verde Toscana: A decidedly tart lemon vinaigrette brightens up this simple and tasty combination of greens, toasted pecans and shaved parmesan.
405 W Patterson Dr.
Southern US food with very little for vegetarians, they do have a garden salad. I got the entree size, which wasn’t as big as I had expected. Enormous chunks of red onion and huge, thick slices of carrots made it a bit awkward to eat. But the unforgivable part was the bits of slimy lettuce.
Upland Brewing Company
350 W 11th St.
Home of wonderful locally brewed beer, The Upland boasts a spacious porch for outdoor dining. However, once again, the Upland Brewery disappoints as a restaurant. The Upland served me the worst salad I have ever eaten in Bloomington. They committed the unredeemable crime of leaving gross, wilted pieces of slimy lettuce in the bowl. It’s so easy to remove bad pieces of lettuce before serving a salad that it is a good indication of how little the establishment cares about their food and their customers.
Side Salad: Fail. One lip.
102 E Kirkwood Ave.
A beloved long-time higher-end Bloomington establishment. The place for visiting college student parents to take their kids.
Mesclun Salad: Pretty standard; just some greens with toasted walnuts, gorgonzola crumbles, Kalamata olives and grape tomatoes, with a few slices of red onion. Not much personality, but not bad.
This is a live review that will expand as I sample more local salads, so stay tuned!
Pro Tip: How to save wilted greens
If you have wilted leafy greens in your fridge, you don’t have to throw them out! You can bring them back to life with this very simple trick. Soak them in warm, (not hot) water for maybe an hour and then refrigerate them in cold water, making sure that any stocks are submerged. They will absorb the water and in an hour or two become crispy and better than they were freshly bought.