Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Flavor in Focus: Spinning Salads Innovations in Cobb and wedge salads showcase modern flavor combinations

Denver’s Vital Root menus a Cobb salad that fits its vegetarian sensibility while still delivering on the promise of that popular flavor system.
PHOTO CREDIT: Julia Vandenoever for Almond Board of California

The salad category is being reinvigorated, inspired in part by modern bowl builds. Seeing all of the innovation there, salads have raised their hand and said, “That mindful, flavor-forward approach to recipe development? We can do that, too!” Chefs are developing modern salads, marked by intriguing textural and flavor play, borrowed from the bowls movement.

Two iconic salads—the wedge and the Cobb—offer a smart platform here, perhaps bolstered by their classic foundation of crisp lettuces: iceberg and romaine.

As evidence, look to the vegetarian fast casual Vital Root, part of the Edible Beats restaurant group in Denver. Its Quinoa Cobb plays with the flavor system of this iconic salad, with coconut “bacon,” three-grain mix, dates, feta, tomato, radish, egg, smoked almonds and goddess ranch. (See cover image above.)

KEBAB TO COBB

Although its origin story is often debated, the Cobb salad is recognized as an American icon, dating back to the 1930s. Like other tried-and-true flavor systems, clever iterations, upgrades and reinventions make it a good fit for modern innovation.

Chopt Creative Salad Company, a fast-casual salad concept based in New York, turns the Cobb toward the Middle East with its Kebab Cobb Salad: chicken, feta, charred red onion, Mama Lil’s spicy peppers, pita chips, romaine, and dressed with Greek yogurt tzatziki. “Leveraging global inspiration and Mediterranean flavors, we enhanced the classic Cobb salad to create a unique mix of flavors and textures,” says Aneesha Hargrave, culinary director for Chopt. The success of this salad showcases the carrier potential of Cobb into different global profiles.

Global protein additions on salads help build out unique, craveable profiles. The Middle Eastern tradition of marinated, spiced chicken can lend a signature flavor experience to a Cobb salad.

Global protein additions on salads help build out unique, craveable profiles. The Middle Eastern tradition of marinated, spiced chicken can lend a signature flavor experience

 

Meanwhie the Twisted Cobb at Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas, combines grilled achiote chicken, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, Cotija cheese, pumpkin seeds, ranch vinaigrette and housemade corn nuts.

We call it the ‘Twisted Cobb’ because we use fresh grilled corn, and we get the crunch from homemade corn nuts. It’s got all of the classic flavors of the Cobb salad—it’s just twisted in a very good way.
Jack Gilmore, Chef/Owner Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Austin, Texas

 

The Twisted Cobb at Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas, combines grilled achiote chicken, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, Cotija cheese, pumpkin seeds, ranch vinaigrette and housemade corn nuts.

The Twisted Cobb at Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas, combines grilled achiote chicken, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, Cotija cheese, pumpkin seeds, ranch vinaigrette and housemade corn nuts.

 

WEDGED IN

It’s certainly not unusual to see a wedge at a steakhouse, but The Palm Restaurant, a storied heritage steakhouse brand based in Washington, D.C., makes sure its version stands out. The Iceberg Lettuce Wedge is cut horizontally, serving as a carrier for the other elements: Danish blue cheese, toasted walnuts, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chives and fried onions.

Updating the steakhouse classic, The Palm Restaurant’s Iceberg Lettuce Wedge is a striking build, with blue cheese, toasted walnuts, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chives and fried onions.The Palm Restaurant

Updating the steakhouse classic, The Palm Restaurant’s Iceberg Lettuce Wedge is a striking build, with blue cheese, toasted walnuts, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chives and fried onions.

 

At Wind & Waves Grill, a coastal Florida concept in Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, the Iceberg Wedge Salad plays with the presentation for a signature take. Instead of one large wedge, two smaller wedges of crisp iceberg are placed atop slices of Florida tomato. Red onion, applewood bacon and buttermilk ranch dressing round out the profile. “Our Wedge Salad is pretty straightforward with a few subtle differences in the build and dressing,” says Anthony Benacquisto, executive chef. “Our housemade buttermilk ranch dressing is made with copious amounts of fines herbes rather than the typical dill, for an additional punch of flavor. We spear the wedges with grape tomatoes for another layer of drama to this American classic.”

Wind & Waves Grill in Vero Beach, Fla., serves a memorable presentation of mini wedges, flagged with skewered grape tomatoes.Wind & Waves Grill

Wind & Waves Grill in Vero Beach, Fla., serves a memorable presentation of mini wedges, flagged with skewered grape tomatoes.

 

ON THE MENU

The flavor story tossed into modern Cobbs and wedges makes them relevant today. Serious attention is paid to texture and flavor. Today’s signature salads pull from the pantheon of pickled, smoked, charred, marinated and roasted, reaching for interesting textural contrast and high-impact flavors.

> Filet Mignon Cobb Salad with wood-grilled marinated filet, greens, Hailey’s croutons, blue cheese, chopped eggs, marinated mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, avocado, smoked bacon and red Zinfandel vinaigrette—The White Chocolate Grill, multiple locations

> Crab Cobb with local Maryland crabmeat, sweet corn, bacon, avocado, asparagus, pico de gallo, crispy tortillas, shredded lettuce, cilantro-lime vinaigrette—Rare & Rye, Ocean City, Md.

> Grilled Gem Wedge with lardons, radish, green goddess dressing, avocado, egg, cheddar cheese—F&D Kitchen and Bar, Lake Mary, Fla.

> Wedge with Benton’s ham, tomato, Cambozola, green goddess—Entente, Chicago

> Charred Iceberg Wedge with blue cheese and buttermilk ranch, bacon, onion, tomato and scallions—Woodley Proper, Encino, Calif.

BUILDING A BETTER SALAD

Call it a counter-revolution, but iceberg and romaine are staking a claim in salads, rebuffing tender greens and reminding diners that the crisp bite of a salad is a huge draw—particularly with younger generations. Once that foundation is laid, consider each element of the Cobb and wedge mindfully, to both entice your guest and represent your brand.

Dressed to Thrill

Although Cobb traditionally sees a red wine vinaigrette and the wedge is usually coated in blue cheese dressing, creativity drives differentiation and interest here.

Cobb

> Rosé vinaigrette

> Green goddess

> Hot bacon vinaigrette

> Roasted jalapeño vinaigrette

> Sherry-mustard vinaigrette

Wedge

> Chimichurri vinaigrette

> Creole onion vinaigrette

> Sriracha ranch

> Smoked buttermilk blue dressing

> Avocado green goddess dressing

Say Cheese

Cheese is key to both of these classic salad builds, and different varieties provide opportunities for distinction.

> Burrata

> Goat cheese

> Smoked cheddar

> Marinated feta

> Fried cheese curds

Veg-Centric Touches

Add the developed, nuanced flavors that the veg-centric movement has brought to the forefront.

> Skillet-charred heirloom cherry tomatoes

> Smoked artichokes

> Blistered shishito peppers

> Celery leaves

> Kimchi slaw

Big Finishes

Finishing touches leave lasting impressions. They also can punctuate a salad with big flavor or texture.

> Roasted pumpkin seeds

> Pickled radish

> Pickled mustard seeds

> Olive relish

> Grilled pineapple

> Fried leek “hay”

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