It was one of those summer afternoons where everything smells awful. The people standing next to you at the intersection. The piles of garbage waiting to be picked up. Even the sides of buildings reeked.
Maybe on a normal day in the olfactory department, Sweetgreen’s Earth Bowl salad wouldn’t have stood out. But this day, it smelled like the tortellini pesto my mom made when I was growing up. It smelled amazing. With quinoa, arugula, chickpeas, corn, broccoli, chicken, and a pesto vinaigrette in it, the first bite matched the expectations that came with the smell.
And then it all fell apart. The salad isn’t bad in that way that you don’t like the taste or that the vegetables are not fresh. It is a different level. Outside the occasional bite where the zip of the pesto vinaigrette appeared, it all rather blah. Even worse, the chicken seemed dry and in comparison to other high-volume salad places in the area like Chop’t, Hale & Hearty, and even Pret, it paled in comparison.
I initially chalked this up to the salad’s name. Maybe the Earth Bowl was going to lack taste, but a salad that tastes like nothing shouldn’t find itself on the list of best new cheap eats.
This weekend, I returned to Sweetgreen and tried the other salad that was recommended – the Kale Caesar. Taking advantage of what could very well be the last nice day before winter arrives, I had my lunch on a Madison Square Park bench across from the dog run. With an croc-wearing Oliver Stone-doppelganger playing an acoustic guitar, I gave SweetGreen another shot.
The Kale Caesar has more going for it than the Earth Salad….but not by much. The first is the combination of the caesar dressing and the fresh squeezed lemon juice. In the bites where these two flavors come together, regardless of whether it is with just kale, or some cheese and the parmesan crisp, the creaminess and the zest bring the salad to life. But those bites are too few and far between to make a difference.
The soft crunchiness of the crisp is a nice addition to a salad that is sparse on tomatoes, those dry pieces of chicken, and anything that isn’t kale.
The lunch time crowds keep lining up for these salads so maybe they are doing something I’m missing, but when NY Mag says, the place has figured out how “to make salad satisfying,” I think it is high time we keep the search for satisfying salads going. Satisfaction won’t be found at Sweetgreen.