When you need a salad


Hard as it may be to believe, it is possible to get your fill of pan-seared foie gras and well-marbled steaks. On those occasions, when the rich diet of the restaurant critic overwhelms me, I invariably find myself craving salad greens and crunchy vegetables - maybe a little protein, too, but keep the cholesterol to a minimum, please. Here are three of my favorite places to satisfy that craving with an entree salad.

Saladelia Café (4201 University Drive, Durham; 489-5776; www.saladelia.com) has been my go-to grazing spot since the restaurant opened in 1988. Depending on my mood, I may opt for one of the handful of entree salads, or mix and match my way to satisfaction Mediterranean style with a mezze platter of deli salads.

Dressings are homemade (I'm partial to the lemon tahini), fruit juices are squeezed to order, and I can always count on the vegetables - many of which are locally sourced and organic - to be fresh. I also like the fact that the fish in the rosemary-marinated salmon salad - one of my favorites - is wild caught.

Tossed (4117 Davis Drive, Morrisville; 460-4449; www.tossed.com) is a chain restaurant, technically speaking, though there are only a handful of locations scattered across the country. Nor is the food your typical franchise fare, starting with the fact that produce for the restaurant's specialty chopped salads, crêpe wraps and sandwiches is delivered fresh daily and is washed and prepared on the premises.

Among the dozen or so house specialty salads, I'm partial to the Cayenne Shrimp with avocado, grape tomatoes, black bean-corn salsa and romaine in a citrus-chipotle dressing. I also like to create my own combination from the cafeteria-style selection of more than 50 salad ingredients and 20 dressings, all of them house-made.

Lately I've been getting my chopped salad fix at The Lettuce Head (8369 Creedmoor Road; 847-7977), a locally owned eatery that opened in January in Towne North Shopping Center. It's a small shop, and the selection isn't as extensive as it is at Tossed, but there are still plenty of options to fill your salad bowl or wrap, and the portions are generous.

The salad I enjoyed recently contained at least as much of the toppings I'd chosen (artichokes, avocado, house-cooked chicken breast, cucumber and bacon - OK, sometimes I do give in to the cholesterol demon) as it did of the base greens (spinach). The roasted garlic balsamic dressing that the friendly salad tosser recommended was a good call, too, though it (and all the other salad dressings) would probably be better if it were made in house.

Part of The Lettuce Head's attraction is the cheery vibe of the little dining room, which includes a dedicated play area for children. It's nice to see the little guys eating something besides a Happy Meal.

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