Confession: I am a little terrified of the choose-your-own-adventure salad stations at delis and counter-service restaurants in Midtown, you know the ones where you can pick your own mix-ins?
Making good food decisions on the fly is not one of my strong suits. And unlike ice cream toppings, which are made to go together (often times the more the merrier), there are more bad ideas than good ideas lurking at the salad station. I feel like I inevitably end up with one item that makes the whole thing gross, like fresh mozzarella … and silky tofu. Plus, with so many options, it’s difficult go get out for less than $7, which is often my goal.
I finally think I found a strategy that results in a salad that is both super cheap — $5 for a veggie version, or pay an extra $1.50 for meat — and that you won’t regret later on.
STEP ONE: Pick the small salad. Nevermind container size, the salad will be substantial. At Village 38, the small salads start at $2.75. (If you still have doubts, pick up a $0.50 bag of Wise chips.)
STEP TWO: Say “yes” to free. Order all the complimentary ingredients you can stand. At Village 38, they offer sprouts, red onion, scallions and crutons.
STEP THREE: Order one menu item from each category. It sounds like so little, but with the free ingredients you’ll end up with a salad with five (or more) mix-ins, plus dressing. Plus, your salad is less likely to get messed up by your over-zealousness. You’ll be fine.
I ordered: $0.50/mushrooms, $0.75/egg white, $1 feta cheese (upgrade and get a meat protein if you’re in doubt or feel like spending a little more).
STEP FOUR: Add it up. Double-check to make sure you’re getting charged for what you ordered. In my case: $2.75 + $0.50 + $0.75 + $1.00 = $5. Now that’s a bargain.
Ed. Note: I tested this strategy at Village 38, but in general, most places offer some sort of free “topping(s)” and their price point for ingredients is within the same range, if slightly higher. You’re still in and out for less than $7.