The Big Salad adds a healthy, inexpensive dining option to northeast Ann Arbor
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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.
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
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 usfoods.com, 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.
Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for AnnArbor.com.