Sunday, May 1, 2016

A chef salad at Village Inn, 107 S. Main St., Middlebury, can be ordered with a French dressing made from scratch. (Truth Photo By Marshall V. King) (MARSHALL V. KING)
Search for Elkhart County's best salad starts

Posted on March 18, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

After announcing Salad Quest, a search for the best salad in Elkhart County, more than 40 readers made suggestions in the five days after the announcement.

And from that list, I struck out to get one of them.

Reader Cathy Colpetzer suggested Village Inn, one of Elkhart County's oldest restaurants, as a place to find a good salad.

She's a fan of the simple salad. And she loves the French dressing they make there.

So I headed over. I got a large chef salad for $4.80. I ordered the French dressing. And I enjoyed the salad.

It was a pile of iceberg lettuce in a bowl with a bit of shredded cheese, sliced sandwich ham and a hard-boiled egg.

The dressing was like the French dressing my mother makes from time to time. Village Inn owner Trent Mast said it's their most popular dressing and they make it in the kitchen from oil, sugar, onions and ketchup.

Yep. You read that right. This salad dressing has ketchup.

But blended as a dressing the result is something akin to Western or the red French dressing you can buy in a bottle.

It's not foul. It's a sweet dressing and I did like it.

Colpetzer said she'd have someone ship it to her when she lived out of state.

I don't know if it's the exact recipe, but I found a recipe from Ella Thomas in the 1978 Griner Mennonite Church Cookbook that is similar. I'd probably use a blender to mix it well.

French Dressing

2 c. Wesson oil

2 c. sugar

2/3 c. ketchup

2/3 c. vinegar

2 t. salt

1 onion, chopped fine

Mix oil, sugar and ketchup; beat until well mixed. Add the vinegar, salt and onion. Beat again until well mixed. Put in jar and store in refrigerator.

Mast said they sell a lot of salad at Village Inn, 107 S. Main St., Middlebury. The chef and the taco salad, with ground beef, are their best-sellers.

These salads aren't fancy. And one reader, upon seeing the picture of the salad on social media, commented that iceberg-based salads shouldn't be allowed in the quest.

Objection overruled. I'm the judge and I'll allow them, but I'd be surprised if an iceberg-based salad wins.

This wasn't a salad with a lot of subtlety, but that's fine at the Village Inn, a diner that's been serving home-style cooking for a long time. The restaurant started in 1947, according to Mast, who has owned it five years.

I thought the salad could have been improved with some romaine or spinach and something crunchy, such as croutons or nuts. But when does a chef salad become something else? Wikipedia isn't always gospel, but the line on the chef salad entry is solid: “Food historians do not agree on the history and composition of chef salad, much less who assembled the first one.”

It could have had more toppings. But it couldn't have been much less expensive either. (two out of five stars) I'm sad that the last piece of old-fashioned cream pie got sold before I could order it. The restaurant has had pie at half price through part of the winter, Mast said. At $1.25 a slice, it's a steal. This place makes great pie.

Starting a search for the best of an Elkhart County food is tough.

There aren't comparisons yet. You have to judge a salad against what you know about other salads in the area.

But you have to start somewhere.

Readers have been helpful. A lot of you have told me about salads at:

Ÿ The Vine,

Ÿ Constant Spring,

Ÿ South Side Soda Shop,

Ÿ Sports Time Family Pub and Grill.

Others mentioned are at Adam's Bistro, Kelly Jae's Cafe, Miles Lab, Lucchese's, El Maguey, Bent Oak, Christiana Creek Country Club, Lux Cafe, Hunter's Place, Harrison Landing, Buffalo Wild Wings, Texas Roadhouse and Applebee's.

I'm still amazed that readers picked salad as this year's quest.

I know we're sticking with lettuce-based salads on the search. I know that I'll be on the lookout for hearty salads. And I know it's going to be fun.

Reader Shaun Patrick posted on Facebook, “Salad is not food. Salad is a sign that food is about to come.”

Former Truth staffer Tom Lange quoted Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation” as saying, “You're eating food that my food eats.”

Funny lines. More will come.

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, 574-296-5805, on Twitter or Instagram @hungrymarshall or via the Dining A La King Facebook page

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