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Posted on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 9:42 a.m.

The Big Salad adds a healthy, inexpensive dining option to northeast Ann Arbor

By Julie Halpert

The Big Salad, which opened in April, is intended to attract business from the hub of professionals who work on the north side of Ann Arbor, near the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex.

"A lot of people come out of their offices and head over here for a healthy alternative," said Justin Marshall, a manager at the restaurant. He said the The Big Salad provides another option besides the many fast-food restaurants in the area. There are currently four other big salads, in Grosse Pointe, Troy, Royal Oak and Novi; others are set to open in Rochester and Northville within the next year.

The ambiance is basic but sunny and bright, with orange walls. The Big Salad offers soups along with 12 different pre-made salads and eight types of sandwiches. In addition to prepared choices, you can be the "architect" of your own salad or sandwich. You choose from baby spinach, iceberg or romaine lettuce, along with dozens of toppings and dressings. While there is a large variety of meats, cheeses and vegetables to choose from, most of the ingredients are basic.

Servers behind the counter take your order and put on a frenzied display of chopping. They use a special utensil to slice your salad ingredients into tiny pieces. The final product is placed on a sparkling white plate and then you're handed a black tray to take it to your table.


The Big Salad
2793 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover.
  • Liquor: No.
  • Wheelchair access: Yes.
  • Prices: Inexpensive
We were told there's a big lunch rush around noon, so we made sure to arrive early. During this time, the place runs like a model of efficiency, and we received our salads right away. But, within a few minutes of noon, the place grew very crowded, with a line running to the door; I'd advise trying to avoid the lunchtime rush if you're in a hurry. At 1 p.m., on our second visit, there was no line.

On our first visit, we decided to try the pre-made salads. The Alaskan King consisted of crab, broccoli, peas and chow mein noodles on spinach, topped with wasabi dressing. I liked the tangy dressing, but the salad hardly made for a substantial lunch. Though the portion was large, I had to hunt for the scant sprinkling of crab pieces hiding in the spinach.

The California was served with bell peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, red onions, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, carrots and dried cranberries; it was tossed with spinach and romaine in a raspberry vinaigrette. It was fine, though I recommend ordering a heartier, bolder dressing instead of the raspberry vinaigrette.

The Cobb I ordered was prepared differently than the traditional version. Instead of laying the various ingredients, like hard boiled eggs, turkey, bacon and blue cheese, in sections on the greens, these were so thinly chopped it was hard to decipher what was inside, except for the delicious chunks of creamy avocado. As a result, the flavors were muted. While this was definitely a more healthful option, I prefer a Cobb that showcases the individual ingredients, both by sight and by taste. And though the chardonnay vinaigrette was a nice, light option, I would order this with bleu cheese dressing the second time around to add flavor, texture and richness.

The tomato basil soup we tried was wonderful—rich, creamy and nicely seasoned. I preferred it to the watery, bland tasting clam chowder.

We found the portion sizes to be inconsistent. While my Cobb salad was gigantic, my friend's California was a far more modest size, even though it cost only $1 less. I thought the prices of the salads, which range from $6.95 to $9.95 for the "gourmet" salads, were reasonable, given the generally ample size. The sandwiches are also inexpensive, with most costing $6.95.

You can have your sandwich made on an Italian baguette, ciabatta square, multi-grain bread or a lavash wrap. On our second visit, my daughter wanted to be the "architect" of her sandwich and ordered the garden turkey with provolone cheese and tomatoes on multi-grain bread. The fresh multi-grain was far superior to the Italian and ciabatta square, neither of which tasted fresh-baked. The turkey, as well as the capicola, ham and salami in the Italian sandwich, all tasted processed and were overly salty.

I did enjoy the roasted red peppers and banana peppers on the Italian, though. More dressing would have made this dry sandwich even better. The filling in my chicken Caesar was delicious, especially the moist, perfectly seasoned chicken squares.

Though there is only one dessert offered, it's a great one. The chocolate chunk cookies, from, didn't suffer from being pre-packaged and were soft and chewy, with huge pieces of chocolate chips.

Servers were eager to please, but some were still learning. On my second visit, a server gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look when I asked what kinds of ingredients were available for the sandwich; he was so baffled that a more experienced server stepped in to take over. However that server forgot to include the tomatoes on my daughter's sandwich and gave me a small size when I ordered a large.

I don't think the salads are any better than those you get at restaurants around town that offer plentiful salad bars. The same goes for the sandwiches; they're OK, but not outstanding. But the restaurant seems to be attracting crowds as a healthful, inexpensive dining option on the northeast side of town.

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Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:18 a.m.

The Big Salad seems very animal meat heavy for a salad place. I wish they offered vegan proteins like tofu or tempeh for their salads and sandwiches. I had hope, but I won't be bothering after looking at the menu. :(


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:55 a.m.

I haven't been to the Ann Arbor location yet, but I always used to frequent the Troy Big Salad location when I would go there for shopping at Nordstrom Rack (now BOTH in Ann Arbor, I can stay in town, yay!). It is a GREAT option for us vegetarians who also enjoy very healthy/fresh eating. I find that a lot of restaurants in the area (especially fast casual like this) have vegetarian options that are over-processed/over-priced. Even at any casual or even upscale dining spot in town you pay $10+ for a salad of just greens/tomato/bit of cheese. Big Salad definitely gives you BANG for your buck. I've met the owner at the Troy location and he is a very dedicated and enthusiastic business owner. I give this place FOUR thumbs up! (counting two for my 6 year old son as he loves it too)!!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

I'm hoping that someday Sweet Tomatoes decides to expand their business into Michigan (specifically, Ann Arbor!). That is a great salad restaurant.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

This is too bad. I work downtown, but would drive across town for a good salad. I'd be even more inclined if it was self-serve. But most of the comments sound like this place is not worth the effort. I was thrlled when Babo near my office had a self-serve salad bar. It was really great, fresh, delicious, and worth its price just to have such an option available. But they've done away with it. :(


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:02 a.m.

I used to work right near Babo too and miss that! You should definitely try Big Salad out before judging it based just on the comments. I'm a salad FREAK and I love the place, lol :)

Nic F.

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:35 p.m.

I went to The Big Salad as a way to change up my normal Zoup! visits and I have to say Zoup is still the better salad/sandwich soup place on the north end of town First, they make your salads to order no matter which salad you order and dressing is always served on the side! The have more then just a few soups a day and they have sandwiches for all kinds of people!!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

This place is the McDonald's of salads. They are very pricey for a pile of lettuce and a few small scoops of cheap toppings. The least expensive option is $7.00, for a bowl of either spinach or romaine or head lettuce chopped up, which I'm sure they buy in massive amounts. The "toppings" are out of cans except for a few of them and the portions of the toppings are small (the scoop looks like a tablespoon). They then "chop" the salad in the bowl and add dressing. (None of the dressings offered the option of just olive oil and vinegar. All are thick and heavy.) Get the dressing on the side unless you like your salad swimming in dressing. The atmosphere is like Burger King, plastic.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4 a.m.

They have MANY low fat/low cal dressing options.... have you actually been to the place???? I'm a vegetarian of 13 years and these are some of the best salads I've ever had. What I pay $8 for at the Big Salad, costs me $13 at whole foods. You definitely get bang for your buck if you make the right choices.

Elijah Shalis

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

Zoup! just down the street has better salads.

Elijah Shalis

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

and sandwiches

George K

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

This is great! This is what people need to be eating. They should also offer fresh-squeezed vegetable juice, like kale juice and wheatgrass and stuff. Then it is a complete magnet for vegans like me.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:58 a.m.

mmmm green juice~!!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

What's in the big salad?


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

The Big Salad is a wonderful dining option! Everything that I have ordered has been great. What I dont get it why would the author not be watching her salad or daughters sandwhich be made. If you said tomato clear enough and didnt see them put it on your daughters sandwich, why didnt you speak up? You are standing right in front of the server watching them make your sald. If you want you cobb salad not chopped up, you dont have to have it chopped up! They ask you "do you want me to slice it for you", a simple "no" would allow you to each your salad the way you prefer. Sheessh most of these problems are the authors problems, not the resturant. There is a reason it is packed during lunch! Their salads, sandwhiches, and soups are AWESOME!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 8 p.m.

It is obvious that this response was probably written by the owner or manager of the restaurant.

Jake C

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Also KO, it's kind of insulting to blame the customer when a server forgets to include something that should clearly be included with an order. Yes, it's a customer's responsibility to speak up when something is missing from their meal, but it's primarily on the restaurant staff to get the order right in the first place!

Jake C

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

"why would the author not be watching her salad or daughters sandwhich be made. If you said tomato clear enough and didnt see them put it on your daughters sandwich, why didnt you speak up? " And how do you know the author didn't do exactly that? All he said is that the server forgot the tomatoes and gave him a small instead of a large, he didn't say "And I stood there like a deer in the headlights and just took what I was given". "They ask you "do you want me to slice it for you?" Given that some of the staff seems to be fairly new, is it that hard to believe that one particular server didn't ask this particular question and just went ahead and sliced everything anyway?