Brave is the restaurateur who doesn’t put Caesar salad on the menu. Here are four very different, very good local versions that explain why it’s been unfailingly popular since it was invented in the 1920s.
1. The updated chicken Caesar
Come and Get It
Owner Jon Polubiec knows what makes for a trendy salad: pulled meat and fried chicken skin. He marinates chicken thighs overnight with garlic and black pepper, then roasts them for about half an hour before the meat is pulled from the bone. It’s served atop romaine lettuce and an apple slaw, dressed with a creamy garlic-confit aioli. Fried chickpeas replace traditional croutons and crispy puffs of fried chicken skin add texture. Shavings of grana padano cheese finish the dish.
$9. 170 Spadina Ave., 647-344-3416.
2. The classic
Aunties and Uncles
Russell Nicholls, chef and owner of this oft-packed brunch spot, saw one too many complicated Caesars in the ’90s. “There were chipotle Caesar salads, deconstructed salads with quail eggs—it didn’t really interest me,” he says. He makes a no-fuss version by whisking red-wine vinaigrette with a garlic aioli, then adding Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Crunchy focaccia, bits of sliced bacon, and grated parmesan finish it off. Nicholls’ explanation as to why the Caesar remains a menu staple: “Garlic. Raw garlic. It’s a cliché but it tastes really good.”
$5.50. 74 Lippincott St., 416-324-1375.
3. The throwback
Jacobs & Co.
The modern steakhouse goes old school with its Caesar, which is prepared tableside. Chopped garlic and anchovies are macerated in a bowl with coarse sea salt and a whack-load of black pepper. Then, in goes an egg yolk that’s coated with a thin layer of Tabasco and Worcestershire. “I could say a dash of Tabasco, but depending on how much air is in the bottle, a dash could be a lot or very little, so we measure it against the other ingredients,” says chef Danny McCallum. Red-wine vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil complete the mixture, which the romaine is tossed in. It’s served with croutons, bacon, and grated parmesan.
$15. 12 Brant St., 416-366-0200.
4. The grilled salad
Brothers Michael and Guy Rubino have made a departure from their avant-garde cuisine with the just-opened Italian room Strada 241 in Chinatown. Like the restaurant, their salad is both rustic and contemporary. “Romaine gets sweeter when you grill it,” says chef Guy, who likes a warm salad during cooler weather. “We use grilled radicchio as well, which is more bitter, so you get the polarity of flavours. It tastes like a braised lettuce but the stems are still crunchy, so you also get a polarity of textures.” Guanciale and prosciutto are used in place of bacon for a more delicate flavour, and house-baked ciabatta is made into croutons.
$9. 241 Spadina Ave., 647-351-1200.