All restaurants have salads, but very few have good ones. Maybe it’s the low expectations: plenty of people would send back a disappointing appetizer, or main dish, or dessert, but no one sends back a salad for being limp, overdressed, or uninteresting. With so much creative talent in restaurant kitchens, too little of it makes its way to the salad station, home to the low (and probably resentful) man on the totem pole.
My wise friend Grace says she’s stopped trying the soup from her company’s cafeteria, one of Silicon Valley’s restaurant-quality best, because she’s concluded after disappointing efforts that whoever is in charge of making soups doesn’t like soup very much. A great salad – sparkling fresh, well balanced, well dressed – is made by people who love salad.
Northstar Café, a California-type eatery in Columbus, Ohio, is a place that loves salad. The restaurant is renowned for their veggie burger, clamored for by even meat-loving Midwesterners. But just as remarkable is its salad accompaniment – airy greens with thin shavings of crunchy cabbage, tossed in a dressing as light as morning dew. The cabbage adds earthy texture and sweetness to the greens, and their effortlessly light dressing is a marvel of understated brilliance. Northstar shows pride in its salad by piling it generously alongside, a welcome contrast to the token garnish you might see elsewhere.
It’s an easy salad to make at home. The slivered cabbage is a simple add. And I’ve used a couple of clues extracted from Northstar’s friendly staff – Zatarain’s Creole mustard and plain old white vinegar – to reverse-engineer an acceptable approximation to Northstar’s dreamy dressing.
I found Zatarain’s mustard is not so very different from any coarse-grain dijon. You could use regular dijon too.
I always use extra-virgin olive oil in my balsamic vinaigrette, but the Northstar vinaigrette definitely uses a lighter, more neutral oil. Grapeseed oil works very well. A dab of mustard and honey (both good for emulsion) and a bit of water to dilute the sharpness of the vinegar. Salt, pepper and garlic if you have it handy. Whisk in a bowl or shake it up in a jar.
Slice cabbage thinly.
And add to freshly washed and dried greens.
Dress the salad with care, tossing and tasting as you go.
Embellish if you like. Salted roasted peanuts go well with the sweet cabbage.
Northstar adds homemade croutons to the mix.
But even plain it beats almost any other restaurant salad I’ve had.
Northstar Café – Columbus, Ohio
4241 North High Street
951 North High Street
4015 Townsfair Way
Northstar Café Salad
Salads don’t get better or simpler than the one at Northstar Café, a California-type place in Columbus, Ohio. I marvel at the airiness of it – baby greens and thin shavings of cabbage, tossed in a vinaigrette as light as morning dew. I’ve only managed to extract hints of the recipe, but this comes close.
- Mixed baby greens
- Head cabbage (the round kind)
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (whole grain if you have it; Northstar uses Zatarain’s Creole Mustard)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 clove garlic, crushed or minced (optional)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or other neutral salad oil)
- Wash and dry greens and place in large bowl.
- Cut cabbage in half and place cut-side down on cutting board. Slice as thinly as possible enough cabbage to equal 1/4 to 1/2 of your volume of greens. Add to bowl with greens.
- Mix salad dressing, whisking in a bowl or putting in a jar, covering tightly and shaking to emulsify.
- Slowly add dressing to salad, mixing and tasting, until greens are well dressed. Refrigerate any leftover dressing.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
I’d add two ingredients: a finely chopped shallot (instead of garlic) + 1t anise seeds ground in a mortar. I also used white balsamic vinegar and it was awesome!
Thank you so much for posting this!! You are directly responsible for me eating more salads. 🙂 I chatted up a former Northstar employee and got some extra info:
They use sugar, not honey.
They add herbs de Provence.
Using those tweaks, and using one less tablespoon of oil, I NAILED IT. It was identical, I swear. Try it out! 🙂
suzy – you are a superstar sleuth!! i can’t wait to try it with your inside info. thanks so much for sharing back! 🙂
How much of each of these do they use, if you know? Thanks!!!
Love Northstar’s salads…will be trying this dressing recipe for myself soon! Thanks for sharing.
just fyi, from my partner, an early northstar employee: the salad greens, along with cabbage, also include a bit of thin-sliced or mandolined fennel!
revolutionary! you are a peach for sharing, jefff – thank you, i can’t wait to try! and i’m in cbus for the summer, so i’m going to northstar with my fennel detector. 😛
So glad I found this! Any ideas on the delectable croutons in their simple salad?
My last visit to Northstar I tried to figure out exactly what greens the salad mix consisted of, and this is my best guess: Napa cabbage, curly kale, radicchio, and frisee endive.
hi amanda – you are right, i just went and they have definitely changed their mix of greens. always a great salad though.
In the photo of the salad we can also clearly discern arugula or rocket leaves, which are often included in packets of mixed baby greens
Is this the recipe for the dressing on the simple salad which has kale and cabbage in it?
hi barbara – ack, did i never reply to this? yes, this is my take on the simple salad at northstar cafe. good luck!