Salad Quest has its first finalist

Salads from Constant Spring in Goshen and Hunter's Place in Elkhart are rated in today's Salad Quest.
Posted on May 5, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Salad Quest

Jason Oswald started out serving hot dogs and hamburgers at his Goshen bar, Constant Spring.

Then Kate Lind came along and suggested using her greens.

Lind grows greens nearly year round at her Michigan farm. Some of Chicago’s best restaurants use her greens. You can buy them at the Goshen Farmers Market, 212 W. Washington St., Goshen.

It’s not difficult to make a salad really.

You can throw some greens on a plate and buy a dressing. But making a salad that packs flavor and variety onto a plate is harder. Making one that’s so big and so filling you want a nap afterwards isn’t easy either, but more on that later.

Oswald and his staff have grown the menu at the Spring, which over the last seven years has become a go-to spot in Goshen for food and drinks.

The burgers continue to be amazing. On Wednesdays, Jesse Shoemaker is making ethnic specials, including Cuban, Ethiopian and Thai dishes.

The pad thai salad on the menu actually started due to those Wednesday oval plate specials. There was leftover pad thai and they added some to a salad.

It got tweaked to become what it is now: a bed of local organic greens with peanuts, chicken, radishes, cilantro, green onions and a tart tamarind dressing that also has a bit of lime juice and fish sauce.

And it’s just a great salad.

It has a range of flavors and textures. And it’s even better with seared fish from the Great Lakes. Friend Jerry Peters orders the salad that way. Oswald isn’t thrilled about substituting fish for chicken and originally charged $2 as an up-charge but it may now be up to $3. A small version of the salad with chicken is $8 and the large is $10.

Up-charges at the Spring are one of the things that annoy me. An $8 sandwich can easily become one that clears $10. Adding four onions rings to a sandwich instead of chips can add a couple bucks. Up-charges make sense, but I’ve heard some question whether the Spring takes it too far.

The Cobb salad ($8/$10), which was one of the first on the menu, also has a nice range of textures and flavors from the chicken, bacon and hard-boiled egg. You won’t find tomatoes on any of the salads until summer. Oswald read “Tomatoland” about how tomatoes are grown industrially in the United States. “I was like, ‘We can’t serve tomatoes in the winter anymore,’” he said.

The customers don’t seem to mind apples instead during the winter. “A lot of people are telling me they prefer apples to tomatoes on the Cobb salad,” he said.

All the dressings at the Spring are made from scratch. A stout vinaigrette is good. The honey mustard is one of the best versions of it I know of locally.

Making the dressings they serve is part of the philosophy, Oswald said. That way they know what’s in the food and can better stand behind it, he said.

The Spring uses about 15 pounds of local greens a week from Lind or Clay Bottom Farm. Occasionally Oswald buys organic greens from a distributor and they aren’t as local, but most of the time, he’s buying from people who make a living here. “A lot of the people who are growing the food are coming in here to eat it,” he said. And local food tends to be fresher and “not crappy,” he said.

The Spring may add a side salad this summer. I’d appreciate being able to get one with a sandwich, even if it comes with a small up-charge.

I can complain about the up-charges or that the Spring isn’t always as hospitable as it could be, but I do love the place. And it’s the first finalist in Salad Quest, the search for the best salad in Elkhart County.

The flavor in the pad thai salad in particular, but also the Cobb, makes it a contender. If I had to pick between the two, I’d pick the pad thai, but it may be too adventurous for many Midwesterners. (five out of five stars)

Three readers recommended the chef salad at Hunter’s Place, 2703 S. Main St., Elkhart.

I went last week with Truth Photo Chief Jen Shephard. I walked in knowing that I’d probably get iceberg lettuce and I’d made peace with that. All three readers said the salad was big, but I couldn’t fathom it would be as big as it was.

The gigantic pasta plate was mounded with lettuce, probably a couple handfuls of shredded cheese, bacon, an entire tomato quartered, two hard-boiled eggs and enough ham and turkey to fill a sandwich. The fork on the edge of the plate looked tiny.

The dressing on the side came in a small saucer.

The ingredients were fresh. And there was a lot of protein on this plate, which weighed at least several pounds.

The kicker here is that the giant salad is $7.95. Many customers get a half for $4.95, said owner Fran Hunter. “Some people do like the big ones,” she said.

The bar sells a lot of salads, particularly at lunch, she said. The ingredients aren’t organic. The dressings are purchased, not made from scratch. But that’s fine at this place which tends to specialize in less healthy bar food.

Occasionally they have a spinach salad, she said. The menu also has a taco salad and salad topped with chicken.

Reader Steve Brown was right that it’s not necessarily the healthiest salad around, but it is the biggest. I’ll be surprised if I find one bigger.

I’d put a bit less cheese on it so it doesn’t overwhelm the amount of lettuce.

I didn’t quite finish the salad. And I was full enough that I sort of wanted a nap afterwards. If you’re going to get a chef salad, this is a good one. (3 1/2 out of five)

The search continues. Bring on more bunny food.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com, 296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog is at blogs.ElkhartTruth.com/diningalaking and you can subscribe to be notified every time he posts.

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