Marshall V. King
Back in March, I went to Village Inn on Main Street in Middlebury and had a salad.
And that started the search for the best salad in Elkhart County.
Last week, I went to Legendary Grind on Main Street in Middlebury and had a salad.
That ended the searching. Now I just have to pick a winner.
And you get to help. Voting from among the finalists will start Wednesday morning and continue through the following Wednesday on elkharttruth.com.
Readers picked salad as the subject of this year’s quest, which is a nearly annual search for the best of an Elkhart County food.
Then readers suggested where to go. (Sometimes people tell me where to go in a mother sense, but, as Jim McNeile used to say, I digress.)
More readers contacted me about The Vine than any other location. The Vine, which has locations in Elkhart and South Bend, sells a lot of salad.
Doug Schultz, executive chef at the Elkhart location at 214 S. Main St., said that 60 percent of the dishes the restaurant sells are salads.
And many of them are Mary’s “Garbage” Salad, named for owner Mary Spillane.
That salad has raisins, candied walnuts, apples and bleu cheese crumbles with balsamic vinaigrette. It comes with chicken for $8.25, or you can get steak for $3 more.
This is a fine salad, but so are some of the others at The Vine. The Asian Peanut Salad is crunchy and nutty. The Crumbly Bleu Cheese Salad mixes romaine, bacon, egg, tomatoes, onion and bleu cheese.
The Vine’s good at adding protein to salad to add flavor, whether it’s steak, chicken or fish. The mahi mahi that tops the Mediterranean Salad was flavorful and cooked perfectly, and I like the artichoke hearts that come with the romaine and mixed greens.
The Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Salad was pretty, and the balsamic drizzled over it was nice, but the salad had been composed and then refrigerated and that hurt the texture of the tomatoes. You just shouldn’t refrigerate tomatoes until you have to.
The Vine gets mixed greens and romaine from Sysco and creates salads with the seven dressings made in-house. The balsamic is the most popular and has a nice flavor.
The question is whether The Vine is a finalist for the best salad place in Elkhart County.
The dressings are good. The fish, chicken and steak have nice flavor. The combinations are well-conceived.
The value is good, and the prices are right, ranging from $7 to $11.25.
The salads could have just a bit more pop. And the details of the salad could be a bit more refined. The walnuts weren’t chopped as fine as they could be. It’s a little detail, but it’s the kind of detail that separates this place from being a finalist.
And for that reason, The Vine gets 4 1/2 stars out of five instead of five.
Legendary Grind opened in Middlebury in December 2009 and moved to its current location in the back of 108 S. Main St. in June 2011, according to owner Dena Hostetler.
It’s a coffee place that serves soup, salad and sandwiches. It feels a little like a tea room, a little like Exchange Bakery once did.
Friend Wilma Harder and others recommended the salads. So I joined Wilma to try them.
The strawberry spinach salad was on special since Hostetler could still find good strawberries. I got that and enjoyed it with chicken and the red wine vinaigrette they make in-house. The spinach was standard bagged spinach, but the salad had nice flavor.
Harder got the Turkey Avocado Ranch salad, which has mixed greens, turkey, avocado, cheese, tomatoes, bacon and homemade croutons.
It’s too bad that a place that makes its own croutons wouldn’t also use something other than bagged, grated cheese. Like the salads at Bent Oak, it got in the way of a good salad.
Hostetler buys greens down the street at Harding’s grocery store. And she or her employees make most of their dressings. They toast nuts to put on the salads.
As fall comes, they’ll make a cranberry apple salad as a special with toasted pecans and feta.
The salads are $6 to $7.50 and are served in a medium-sized bowl that’s decent size.
But the problem with the salad was the brown edges of the lettuce in the turkey avocado ranch salad. It simply wasn’t as fresh as it could have been on a lovely fall day. I see enough things on the menu I want to go back. And I really liked the red wine vinaigrette, which was a little sweet. But the lettuce made the salad average at best. (2 1/2 out of five)
Readers have asked whether I’m rating individual salads or the restaurant making them, and after months of eating salad, it’s pretty easy to say it’s the place.
Which restaurant in Elkhart County makes the best lettuce-based salads you can buy?
It comes down to:
Antonio’s, 1105 Goshen Ave., Elkhart
Miles Lab, 3763 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart
Constant Spring, 219 S. Main St., Goshen
Kelly Jae’s Cafe, 133 S. Main St., Goshen
I’ll pick a winner from the four. You can vote for your favorite starting Wednesday morning, Oct. 16.
And winners will be announced on Monday, Oct. 28, in this column.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.