Salad Days in Sonoma County: Best Salads

Great picks for leafy greens -- from arugula and chevre to a hearty Caesar

Beet salad at Boon Eat + Drink in Guerneville
Beet salad at Boon Eat + Drink in Guerneville

After hunkering down over braised meats, hearty stews, root vegetables and way too many carbohydrates this winter, my body is clamoring for greens. A crunchy hit of chlorophyll mainlining straight to my sun-starved system.

Dressed up or dressed down, big leafy green salads are more than rabbit food. Topped with goat cheese, spiced nuts, slivered onions, or just a drizzle of olive oil and good balsamic, they’re a kick start of a meal that won’t have you snoozing through dessert.

Here are some favorites, from Caesars and wedges to beet and field greens. Because like Seinfeld’s Elaine, sometimes all you want is a big salad.

Breakfast Salad at Dierk’s Parkside: Warm poached eggs on a bed of local mixed greens with chopped bacon, fresh herbs, potatoes, croutons and tomatoes with herb dressing ($11.50). 404 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 573-5955. Barndiva (231 Center St., Healdsburg, 431-0100) turns a similar salad around for dinner, with a warm garlic crouton, bacon, Pecorina cheese, eff and chives ($12).

Tuna Salad Redux: Lots of locals go crazy for the Jackson’s Bar and Oven’s Tombo Tuna salad with herbed greens, golden beets, cucumbers, cranberries, pinenuts & white balsamic vinaigrette. $16.95. Even the staff love it. Says restaurant GM, Ken Goldfine, “I seriously eat it once a week at least.” 135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 545-6900. You can also find a grilled Tombo salad on the menu a Fresh by Lisa Hemenway, with spinach, grille mushrooms and a warm lemon and soy dressing. 5755 Mountain Hawk, Santa Rosa, 595-1048. In a hurry? Fresh has dozens of deli salads (from her signature Chinese chicken to warm spinach or fruit salads) made fresh daily.

Pizza Salad: What is crust, other than a convenient transport for veggies and cheese? Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar takes flatbread, then tops it with Caesar salad, crab salad or apricot chicken salad with watercress, calling it Piadine. Just want your greens? Locals swear by the Capo, with arugula, artichokes, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and lemon vinaigrette. 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 544-3221.

Caesar’s Caesar: While some folks shy away from the bold garlic and anchovy kick of the real deal, Blue Label at the Belvedere gives fair warning about their kiss-nixing ingredients: White Anchovy, soft boiled egg, a giant croutons and a heaping share of shaved Parmesan ($8). Plus, whole leaves of Romaine, rather than little hard hearts. 727 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 542-8705.

Et tu Brute? Everyone’s got a favorite Caesar, so here are a few others I’m partial to: Franco’s, 505 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, 523-4800; Stark’s Steakhouse Required Caesar (521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707.546.5100); Cafe Citti, 9049 Sonoma Hwy./Hwy. 12, Kenwood.

The Wedge: A snicker-worthy steakhouse staple, the wedge — a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing — has been resurrected. Modern steakhouses add artisan blue cheese and bacon while keeping true to the iceberg past. Shimo Modern Steakhouse, wedge with buttermilk ginger dressing. 241 Healdsburg Ave.,Healdsburg, 433-6000.

Cobb: The Cobb salad, invented at Hollywood’s Brown Derby in 1937, is a kitchen sink kind of salad usually incorporating lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, bacon, egg and French dressing. Monti’s Rotisserie gives it a French accent with Romaine, chicken, onions, feta, chopped egg and a mustard vinaigrette.714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 568.4404

Chimay Pretzel Chicken Salad: Hearty enough to stand up to stout, this salad includes Barley and Hops’ signature Chimay Pretzel Chicken served warm over greens with mustard cream sauce, $11. 3688 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, 874-9037.

Fig Salad at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma
Fig Salad at the Girl and the Fig in Sonom

Wine Country Salads: Yes, we’re known around these parts for putting some pretty odd things in our salads. Like fruit and goat cheese. Or jicama. But these seasonal eats showcase the foods coming from local farms (sometimes) or well, just a tasty combination that makes for a solid meal.

Got Goat? Santa Rosa’s grab and go lunch caterers, Pearson & Co., stock refrigerated deli and coffee shop cases throughout the county, but we love ’em best for the unappealingly named Crunchy Goat Salad — a heaping helping of fresh mixed greens, goat cheese, candied walnuts, grapes, red onions and balsamic vinaigrette. Store locations at 2759 4th St., Santa Rosa; 2500 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa; at their “secret” location at Kaiser Permanente 3925 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa. Downtown at Holy Roast , 490 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.

Beet This: You’ll find creamy dollops of chevre on most local beet salads as well. These colorful masterpieces showcase peeled red, yellow and pink beets (usually local, often heirloom), with goat cheese, microgreens and olive oil. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an earthier, tastier, more NorCal plate of veggies anywhere. Top beet salads: Boon Eat + Drink, 16248 Main St., Guerneville, 869.0780; Hyatt Vineyard Creek Inn’s Brasserie, 170 Railroad Street, Santa Rosa, 636.7388.

Fruits, nuts and more: The girl and the fig’s Sondra Bernstein is legendary for her goat cheese, arugula and fig salad, and with good reason. It combines spicy greens, sweet figs, creamy cheese and a tart vinaigrette in soul-satisfying harmony. 110 West Spain Street, Sonoma, 938-3634. If you work in downtown Santa Rosa, you’ve probably got a favorite Flavor Bistro salad. I’m a Spinach girl (caramelized onions, bacon, pears, goat cheese) unless it’s a Pear and Endive day (pear, endive, walnuts, Gorgonzola);  while my friend swears by the Harvest (field greens, dried fruits, feta, $7.95-$11.95). 96 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa, 573-9600.

Worldly Salads: Greek-style Athena (Romaine, tomatoes, olives, onions, feta) to the spicy Bangkok (ginger curry grilled chicken with onion, mint, cilantro, peanuts and lemongrass vinaigrette), Asian Chicken, Cancun (lettuce, black beans, chipotle vinaigrette) or a simple bowl of tossed greens, $6.50-$9.95. Crepevine, 740 Farmers Lane, Santa Roa, 577-8822. Looking for a late night nibble? Open until 10pm weekdays, 11pm on Friday and Saturday.

Vietnamese Shrimp: A pile of lettuce, shrimp, cilantro and spicy fish sauce makes Noodle Palace’s our top choice for a refreshingly smart Shrimp salad ($6.95). 1310 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa.