Vinaigrette, operating in the Townley development off Leestown Road since last summer with a second location recently opened in The Square downtown, offers local diners a fast-food option that's healthier than the standard fare.
Most fast food relies heavily on deep fried, fructose-laden food (used loosely) and drink. The result is that calories and chemicals far outweigh nutritional value.
The problem facing many diners is what to do when you need a quick meal. Vinaigrette was opened with the goal of solving that dilemma with assembly-line salads offering healthy, flavorful and fast options.
First, the good. (It's mostly good.) Because, I assume, of the high volume and a dedication to quality, the greens in the salads are fresh, crisp and tasty. None of that slightly tired, sometimes a little-brown-around-the-edges quality that you can find in places where salads are an obligatory side rather than the stars of the show.
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Vinaigrette also has a wide variety, including the standards like romaine and iceberg but also Napa cabbage, baby spinach and a spring mix. Some very interesting salad-appropriate vegetables also come into play. They include, again, some standards such as artichoke hearts, cucumber, carrots, snow peas and grape tomatoes but also some exciting and less common choices such as edamame, roasted red peppers, black beans and chickpeas.
The way the menu is structured, a diner can start with one of the salads that's offered and then choose to add any number of ingredients divided up as protein (chicken, salmon, etc.), cheese, veggies and fruit, and other (pita chips, rice noodles, etc.) to suit his or her taste, calorie tolerance, hunger level and pocketbook.
So, on to specific salads.
My favorites of those I tasted were the Tuscan and the vegan power salad. At $8.95, the vegan salad was the heartiest of the vegetarian options. It includes protein-packed edamame and chickpeas, sunflower seeds and a great mixture of lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, etc. The creamy lemon vinaigrette dressing set it all off beautifully. The chicken taco salad, also $8.95, is a little heartier, with chicken, black beans, Cheddar cheese, tortilla strips and more with a cream avocado and salsa dressing.
The classic chicken salad, $8.95, is two scoops of chicken salad on greens with strawberries. I'm not a fan of sweet chicken salads and was a little nervous when I saw this included apples and dried cranberries along with pecans in it, but here Vinaigrette strikes a nice balance, all tied together with a very tasty tarragon mayonnaise.
The only serious disappointment was the Santorini, $7.95, a mixture of feta, quinoa, chickpeas, peppers, etc. dressed with a simple lemon juice and olive oil mixture. I love all those things but the salad that resulted reminded me of the description of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl: "Everything you got's about right, But the damn thing don't come out right."
Not as disappointing but also not too exciting was the Acapulco Caesar, $6.95. It seemed a little dry, even with the lime chipotle dressing, and there were no anchovies, something I think of as critical to a Caesar.
A couple of additional notes. The two soups I tried, the sausage, kale and potato and the white chicken chili, $3.50 a cup, were really good. It might be getting a little warm for soups, but keep them in mind when fall winds start blowing. Also, the imaginative seasonal lemonades, $2.95, were very subtle and satisfying.
One final comment. Calorie counts would be nice. I realize it's a challenge and expense for a small, local operation but given that Vinaigrette presents itself as a healthy option, that's information customers should have.