Review: Maple Grove’s Best Salads

Sensational spring salads.
Sweet marries tart and bitter in this succulent goat cheese beet salad from 3 Squares Restaurant.

Now that the weather is mild we instinctively gravitate to lighter fare. This year we’d like to respectfully suggest that you step away from the Caesar salad. We don’t want to begrudge a good garlicky Caesar, but it’s just so predictable, especially when there are so many other exciting salad possibilities out there. What’s more, the boundaries that make a salad a salad are remarkably porous. Is a salad always cold? No. Must a salad include greens? Not necessarily. Does a salad have to be healthy? Absolutely not. Can man live by salad alone? Definitely! Maple Grove’s restaurants are rife with creative and interesting salad options. There’s one for every predilection and preference, so get out there and start crunching. Here is a smattering of a few that we loved.   BARLEY ORANGE CRANBERRY SALAD Four Seasons Cafe, Maple Grove Hospital   If the idea of hospital food elicits involuntary full-body shudders, get thee to the Four Seasons Café at Maple Grove Hospital and enjoy a fresh, vibrant meal that’s delicious by any standard, never mind that of the pitiful hospital food yardstick. It makes sense that there is an emphasis on healthy dishes here (food is medicine!) and the café features a rotating menu of enticing “exhibition salads” which highlight the best produce of the season. The heart-healthy barley, orange and cranberry salad is a delightful mix of tender grains, tangy fruit and fresh greens gussied up in a vaguely Moroccan disguise with the addition of cinnamon, parsley, red onion and chopped fresh mint. The dressing is a light and bright combination of orange juice, honey and olive oil. A shower of sliced almonds rounds out the tableau with a welcome bit of crunch. We suggest you grab a table and enjoy the serene stone walls and expansive windows at the café, but if you’re on the run you can also get your salad to go. $5.49. 9875 Hospital Drive; 763.581.1673;     ROASTED VEGGIE SALAD California Pizza Kitchen   CPK is known for its designer pizzas (yes, you can even get several iterations with salad on top) but they also offer an ever-changing array of inspired salads. We chose the roasted vegetable salad for its mosaic of colors and texture and got quickly absorbed in the task of excavating layers of ingredients. The jumble of red and yellow bell peppers, asparagus, sundried tomatoes, eggplant and warm artichoke hearts offered oodles of surprise and entertainment, but our favorite veggie participant was the charred corn kernels, slightly chewy and pleasingly smoky. Cubes of avocado chimed in, which might seem out of place with all the roasted-ness but they added a balancing, clean creaminess. A tangle of springy field greens showcased the veggie medley to their best advantage, and the creamy Dijon balsamic dressing was a brilliant combination of sweet and tang. Add grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon if you like, but we thought the dish was perfect in its unadorned glory. Half or full size. $9.75, $13.50. 12489 Elm Creek Blvd.; 763.424.4890;   THAI BEEF AND NOODLE SALAD P.F. Chang’s This salad features a spicy beef that’s imbued with the distinctively floral, citrusy taste of lemongrass. The beef is paired with sweet fresh mango, sliced peppery radishes, cool bean sprouts and a bountiful spray of greens. Thin, springy rice noodles jump into the mix as an efficient vehicle to cool and absorb the strong flavors. The whole shebang is tossed with that addictive sweet Thai peanut dressing that we crave—you will probably want to ask for extra, as we did. The great thing about rice noodles is that they’re gluten free, so you can enjoy a bit of pasta without worry. $12.95. 12071 Elm Creek Blvd.; 763.493.9377;   COBB SALAD Malone’s Bar and Grill The Cobb, like the Caesar, is another old-school classic that was invented by (who else?) Mr. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, Calif. The Cobb is our go-to salad for its winning combination of textures, flavors and nutritional components. Malone’s produces a worthy contender that does not stint on the ingredients. A veritable avalanche of bleu cheese crumbles and bacon bits adorn roughly chopped romaine lettuce along with sliced hard-boiled egg, diced tomato, black olives, green onions and avocado slices. Malone’s tops their Cobb with a grilled teriyaki chicken breast: nicely charred, lightly sweet and utterly tender. You can also request that breast buffalo style: deep fried and doused in hot sauce. Add whatever kind of dressing you fancy; we are partial to a sweet thousand island. $12.95. 12635 Elm Creek Blvd. N.;763.447.6500;   SOUTHWEST TACO SALAD Wild Bill’s Sports Saloon Basically a deconstructed taco, Wild Bill’s Southwest taco salad is decidedly not in the “healthy” category of salads. Who cares: it’s totally worth it. Red, white and blue tortilla chips create a base for a dizzying mound of classic southwestern ingredients: highly seasoned, cumin-rich ground beef; shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, diced tomato, green onion and zingy pickled jalapenos. It comes with the purdiest pink dressing, creamy like a ranch and kicky from a solid dose of Southwest salsa. We recommend a side order of sour cream (and a big mug of cerveza). $8.49. 12730 Elm Creek Blvd.;763.420.2422;   SWEET APPLE PECAN SALAD Dave and Buster’s   Minnesota-bred honeycrisp apples are our state’s pride and joy; they really sing in this nifty little field greens salad. They’re crisp and tart, an ingenious foil for the more sugary candied pecans and red raspberries. Blue cheese crumbles impart a kinda-salty, kinda-stinky accent, and just a dab of the thick and super-sweet raspberry vinaigrette will do. It’s a delicate and sophisticated mélange, an amusing contrast to the constant chiming of bells and flashing lights that is Dave and Busters. As with most salads, you can add a slab of protein for an extra charge. $9.99. 11780 Fountains Way; 763.493.9815; GOAT CHEESE BEET SALAD 3 Squares Restaurant This unusual salad pairs sweet with tart and bitter: A foundation of spinach and arugula are tossed with fresh orange wedges, crumbles of goat cheese, and red and gold beets roasted with garlic thyme and olive oil. Among this colorful mix you’ll find a sweet surprise of almond brittle. A drizzle of herb vinaigrette finishes this salad nicely with the addition of balsamic syrup—a balsamic reduction that resembles a glaze. As with many salads at this Main Street restaurant, it comes with a cute cornbread cake. $11.50. 12690 Arbor Lakes Parkway; 763.425.3330;   GRILLED TENDERLOIN STEAK SALAD Pittsburgh Blue Steakhouse Our list would not be complete without a steak salad and what better place to snag a good one than at one of our best steakhouses? Pittsburgh Blue knows what it’s doing when it comes to beef. The restaurant is able to get its paws on some exquisite, naturally aged USDA choice grade meat—that’s the high-end stuff that we mere citizens can’t find at the grocery store. The tenderloin is a super-succulent cut that resides between the ribs and kidneys of the beast; this muscle gets very little action so it’s guaranteed to be tender. The salad itself is a jolly vision of red and green: verdant baby greens, red onion, scarlet cherry tomatoes, bright bell peppers, and if you like your steak as rare as we do, rosy red meat. Blue cheese and balsamic contribute the requisite notes of funk and tang. $16.95 lunch; $19.95. 11900 Main St. N.; 763.416.2663;