In Defense of the Wedge Salad

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When a pal expressed his disdain for the steakhouse classic salad, The Wedge, I was incredulous. Nobody dislikes the Wedge, I thought. That would be a little like hating sunshine.

“It’s a do-it-yourself salad,” he said, thereby completely emptying his quiver of anti-Wedge ammunition in a single shot.

It’s true that the diner is left holding the knife when it comes to reducing that large parcel of produce down to more manageable bits. But let’s not forget that we are in a steakhouse, which means that we’ve already been supplied with a weighty serrated knife that has little to do until the main event. Let’s give it a job, make it feel useful, and practice those knife skills so that when that glorious slab of beef does arrive, we sit ready.

As part of my job, I’ve ordered and enjoyed Wedge salads at numerous restaurants, but far fewer than if I truly had my way. Turns out, the salads aren’t nearly as much fun to write about in a review as they are to eat in a restaurant. So, like a Buddhist monk, I practice self-restraint, passing up items I know to be delicious in favor of experimental salad combinations that nature never intended. If a person wanted to take chances, he’d be in a romantic comedy instead of a steakhouse.

With layer upon layer upon layer of appealing texture, I’d argue that iceberg is the croissant of lettuces, the polar opposite of its typical designation as “white trash food.” When it comes to providing that all-important crunch when building the beloved BLT sandwich, nobody reaches for Bibb, Boston or, heaven help us, kale. We reach for iceberg, because we’re not barbarians.

The only way to make iceberg any crisper is to set it against a backdrop of creamy dressing. 1,000 Island, creamy bleu cheese, even a tangy ranch – all that matters is that it’s cold, loaded with dairy products, and abundantly portioned. When that chilled plate lands in front of you, it might appear as if there’s a tidal wave of dressing, but the surface-to-sauce ratio is deceiving given all those layers. Great chefs take that physical anomaly into consideration when plating.

When it comes to toppings, bacon is the only real requirement. When combined, the sensations of smoky, crunchy and creamy mimic the conditions in the womb, or so I’m told. There’s no sin against adding a handful of diced ripe tomatoes and a shower of chopped red onion, chives or scallions. And if there’s no bleu cheese in the dressing, by all means add it now. But can we agree to stop right there? Bread belongs in the bread basket, even if you toast it and call it a crouton. Hard-boiled eggs are breakfast foods. And let’s not even bring up the topic of dried fruits and nuts.

Like an expertly grilled steak, the most basic concepts often are the best. They also are the most difficult to pull off given the complete absence of sleight of hand trickery. So the next time you spot a Wedge on a menu, order it, or we’ll all lament the day when it, like the Welsh rarebit, goes extinct. 

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