Of all the foods to stab me in the back, I’d never have suspected Caesar salad.

Caesar salad is very dear to my heart. I credit it as being the very first salad that taught me salads can not only be a healthy side dish alternative, but also quite a lovely, filling meal on their own when you’re in the mood to fill a bowl with a portion of garden goods doused with enough dressing to make you forget you’re eating leaves. I’m not sure what it was about Caesar that captured my attention in a way that those boring house salads never did. Maybe it’s the minimalism of it. Maybe I just like the fact that romaine lettuce isn’t shredded carrots or purple cabbage. Maybe I just live for that last crouton you find at the bottom of the salad bowl, drowning in dressing and spackled with Parmesan cheese crumbs.

I’m so committed to Caesar as my go-to salad that I have the audacity to request salad substitutions at restaurants. Most of the world knows that many people like myself adore Caesar salad, so many dining establishments include a little disclaimer on their menu:

ENTREES COME WITH CHOICE OF SIDE, AND SOUP OR GARDEN SALAD

SUBSTITUTE CAESAR SALAD $2.50 EXTRA

I’m accustomed to seeing this note, and I’m willing to pay my Caesar fee, because I know when that lettuce arrives all smothered in fatty dressing, it’s going to be worth it from the first forkful of lettuce to the last piece of cheese. In all my years of Caesar substituting, I’ve felt that my Caesar fees have been nominal, but that all changed the other day when I got lunch with a friend.

We were both ordering the same thing: a chicken lunch that came with one side and our choice of soup or house salad. After having rehearsed it in my head seven times before the waitress came around, I recited my order aloud:

“Could I get the Fox’s chicken? For my side I’ll get the roasted red potatoes. And what’s the soup of the day?”

“Tomato basil.”

I stifled a grimace.

“Okay, then can I just get a Caesar salad?”

The waitress raised her eyebrows at me and lifted her pen from the pad.

“That… doesn’t come with it. Do you just want Caesar dressing?”

Not to split hairs here, but dumping Caesar dressing on any old salad does not a Caesar salad make.

“No… I just want a Caesar salad as my salad? It’s okay if it costs extra.”

“So just a side Caesar salad?”

“Yes?”

It’s with regret that I must admit this isn’t my first Caesar shaming. I’m not usually one to make a lot of special requests when eating at public places, but over the years the Caesar substitution has become every bit as mainstream as “no tomato” or “dressing on the side.” I know there are some fundamental differences between house salads and Caesar salads, but why must the garden and house salads reign supreme? There are more ingredients in them! Surely that should make them more difficult to prepare!

Regardless of our server’s rebuff, my salad arrived soon and it was delicious; if our waitress had spit in it, I was none the wiser.

Eventually, our lunch concluded, and I sat slumped over in my half of the booth, perfectly content with the world in that way that only a full stomach can provide. The cheesy garlic bread we shared was melty on the top with a flaky crust underneath. The chicken was crispy and perfect. The roasted red potatoes had a hint of rosem—

“Your Caesar salad cost 5.99,” my friend announced, scanning our bill.

“WHAT?”

brutus

Sure enough, there it was: a $5.99 charge for a salad that came with my meal. Ladies and gentleman, I’ve been eating Caesar salads for about seven years. I’ve eaten them in a variety of dining establishments all over the Chicagoland area. Never in my life have I been charged six dollars to switch a regular salad to a Caesar salad without any supplemental protein (like chicken) in it. Now, it’s not about the money. I have six dollars to spare that I’ll probably fritter away on something every bit as ridiculous as an astronomical Caesar salad substitution fee, but it’s the principle of it that was insulting, not the expense.

I looked at my friend, looked back at the bill, and said the one thing all non-confrontational people dread when they’re in the company of someone who’s dissatisfied and about to do something potentially embarrassing.

“I’m going to say something.”

And like most people who puff out their chests in scorn, I went quietly, paid the outrageous $5.99, and showed just how p.o.’d I was by leaving a 15% tip. (I hate questioning things in a complain-y manner, especially in restaurants. I could find a hair in my food, and I’d prefer to just handle it on my terms–as in, writing a blog post about it passive aggressively after the fact–rather then justifiably causing a scene at the table.)

Days after my card had been swiped and my bank account was $5.99 lighter, I still hadn’t gotten the closure I needed. Either the waitress made a mistake or the restaurant has an insane Caesar substitute policy, but this problem was even larger than that. At most restaurants, Caesar salads are more expensive than the house salad, and I needed to know why. I was relieved to find another curious Caesar supporter had asked this same question on Yahoo! Answers seven years ago, but I wasn’t prepared for the response.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.05.37 AM

S-s-SARDINES?????????????????????????

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 5.08.44 AM

“Most Caesar recipes call for anchovies.”

I wasn’t prepared to discover this, and before you react as some of my friends and coworkers have, NO, I did NOT know that! This is not common knowledge! I think there are probably thousands of Caesar salad lovers in the world who have no idea there are anchovies–the most notoriously yuck-inducing pizza topping–in their savory, fattening salad dressing!

Even one of my best friends of 14 years was keeping this secret from me.

Even one of my best friends of about 14 years was keeping this secret from me.

I didn’t want it to be true, but it was there in the ingredient list in the Caesar dressing in my own refrigerator, between the organic spice and xanthan gum. Anchovy flavor.

anchoby

I know you’re probably wondering, “What’s the big deal? This shouldn’t change anything. You like Caesar salads, so what’s the problem?” Well, let me explain it like this. Imagine you found out that feces–albeit in small quantities–was sometimes used to make your favorite food. Would that change you feel about it? Wouldn’t you feel at least a little betrayed by your own ignorance? Could you just keep eating it like nothing had changed? The horror of consuming feces is basically how I feel about eating anchovies (really just fish in general).

Now the petty $5.99 and the whole institution of Caesar substituting doesn’t really matter that much anymore, because I’m never going to look at Caesar salads the same. I haven’t gone near a Caesar salad since learning the truth. It turns my stomach even thinking about it. I’ve read The Jungle and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I’m usually comfortable with the fact that I’m in the dark about what specifically goes into my favorite foods (like hot dogs), but this repugnant revelation hits really close to home. I’m not sure how to live in a post-Caesar salad society.

I guess all I have left is to ask one question: Is there anything gross I should know about in vinaigrettes? 

74 thoughts on “Being a Caesar Salad Lover in a House Salad World

  1. Hysterical! Its only lettuce and croutons. I usually pass on the croutons, so I’m just paying for iceberg lettuce. Funny thing is that at salad only restaurants, Lettuce is the basic, and arugula and spinach cost the premium 75 cents more!

    1. I guess this speaks to how little I know about farming and gardening and produce marketing, but as a society we should be appalled that a container full of leaves and vegetables can easily cost $12 without any meat in it. It’s a little outrageous.

  2. I’m so sorry, but I just had to laugh. I l
    ove the fact that you’ve been going out of your way all these years to eat a food you hate. All the same, I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you find a new, fishless favorite.

  3. Pardon me, I’m new here, but I must point this out: The anchovies are what makes it so delicious. Try a Caesar dressing made without anchovies and you’ll see the difference.
    Of course, I have been known to eat garbage off the street, so what do I know?

      1. Pretty sure! My secretary has unearthed this for you:
        http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/10/taste-test-best-anchovies-anchovy-fillets-in-olive-oil.html

        The relevant excerpt:
        “Talk to almost any chef or experienced home cook, and they’ll tell you that anchovies are one of the industry’s favorite not-so-secret secret weapons. Because they’re a concentrated source of glutamic and inosinic acid—two molecules responsible for triggering our sensation of savoriness—they’re irreplaceable for adding depth of flavor and a meaty backbone to, well, pretty much anything.”

      1. Ah, well, then you will just have to resign yourself to shallow-flavored salads from here on out, Ms. Katie! Have fun with your mesclun leaves and ranch dressing! 😉

  4. Ah yes, I recall eating pick & mix sweets and a friend politely informed me mid-bite that the primary ingredient, gelatin, was made from animal bones. Didn’t even slow me down.

    You’re free to pull a Charlton Heston and shout ‘Anchovies, Ceaser Salad is anchovies!’ as some nice men carry you off on a stretcher, but if possible, try to hold onto the little things you enjoy in life.

    1. Pick & mix? I don’t know what that is. Is that like at the old timey candy stores when you make your own bag of goodies?

      I want to keep an open mind about this, but I just… Anchovies? It’s going to be tough for me.

      1. Yeah that’s exactly what it is. You don’t have those around anymore? In the UK they still seem as common as ever, being served from cinemas, supermarkets, and some corner shops.

        Ok, good news and bad news. The bad news is anchovies are clearly mentioned as a possible ingredient of Ceasar salad dressing on both the Caesar salad and anchovy short Wikipedia pages. The good news is anchovies are NOT mandatory. There are several different variations on the dressing, so it’s theoretically possible this whole time that you’ve never eaten slimy gross anchovy dressing!

        (I’m giving you a way out, take it! Stop having those nightmares about a singing anchovy dancing around in a tophat and cane. It doesn’t make sense, they don’t have legs.)

    2. Actually, now that you mention it, we still have one in the mall. I’m not sure how it stays open because I never see anyone in there anymore. Blame the paleo diet.

      GAH. THE ANCHOVY VISUAL. Fish are GROSS. It’s like dunking your mouth in an aquarium for lunch. Blech.

  5. I hate to break it to you, but often there IS feces in our food. There’s even a permissable limit amongst regulations. Ditto bits of insects and rat hairs, etc.
    Makes the anchovies seem less of an issue now, doesn’t it?

    1. I mean. No, not really. LOL!

      I guess I just kind of assumed there’s poo and insects and chemicals in everything, and I’ve made peace with that in a way. I have not, however, made peace with anchovies.

      1. I blame ingredient lists. Ignorance is bliss. Which is why we can kud ourselves about the poo and chemicals as they don’t get a listing.
        Personally I learnt to embrace the anchovy instead of denying myself one of the best salads in the world.

    1. They’re amazing! I wish it wasn’t true. Surely somewhere there must be a good Caesar dressing without anchovies. I will not rest until I find it.

  6. When I was younger, I too had to deal with this dilemma. My dad pointed out that I like other kinds of fish, why not a tiny bit to make a good dressing great? Honestly, it doesn’t taste like the nasty-ness that goes on pizzas. Don’t give up your garlicky pleasure because of something that you can’t taste/makes something taste even better.

    Btw, I HATE having to pay extra for my delicious cesar salads, but I always do. Clearly a superior salad.

    1. Everyone’s been encouraging me to remain loyal… But I’m not sure I can do it. At the same time, I don’t want to imagine my life without Caesar salads.

  7. After graduation from college, my best friend and his beautiful new wife invited me over to their place for dinner, and she made the Caesar salad tableside for me to discover that anchovy paste — and raw egg yolk! — were the active ingredients, Katie. I choked it down with a smile, never missing a thread of conversation like the amiable guest I was. And have dodged Caesar salads since.

    1. Yes, I read about this egg yolk when I first started down this rabbit hole. That really doesn’t bother me, as I’ve been knowing to eat cookie dough that wasn’t dough so much as it was margarine, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. But I’m glad you understand the horror of it!

      1. Oh, it was the anchovy paste that gave me the shivers way more than the egg yolk, Katie. I’ve swilled homemade eggnog with yolk swimming in it.

        One time I ordered a pizza with sausage over the phone and the somehow guy misheard it as anchovies, which I somehow didn’t realize until I picked it up, drove it home, put it on my plate, and took a huge first bit. Ugh!!!!!!! I brought the whole pie back and demanded and got my sausage for free.

    2. OH THAT’S THE WORST! When you’ve already taken that bite. I remember once instance when boyfriend made a linguine with clam sauce, and we were heating up the leftovers and I was sampling the cold food as one does when you’re hungry and impatient, and I unwittingly took some of his linguine. I’ve never spit something out quite so dramatically.

  8. Too funny! I love me some Caesar salad! And I’m a total wuss when it comes to confrontations, especially in restaurants. My husband is dead opposite and it is not at all unusual for him to request to see a manager. Like, at McDonald’s. On a date, he once summoned the maître d’ in a 5 star restaurant in Atlanta to inform him that, clearly, the baked potatoes had been allowed to stand under the warmer for too long. Meanwhile, I crawled under the table.. and yet I married him. You gotta respect a guy with a pair like that. Sometimes I cheat and sic him on the unsuspecting populace to avenge something I can’t seem to deal with.

      1. I feel like if something is OBVIOUSLY wrong, then I’ll fight for justice. But this time… She did use the phrase “side salad,” so it could have been a misunderstanding on my part. Even though I don’t think that charge was justified.

    1. WOW! He sounds like my boyfriend. If something isn’t to his liking or he suspects something is wrong (especially with regard to how much we were charged), he has no problem saying something about it. I routinely send him to do my bidding when I’m too embarrassed to speak up about something, but sadly he wasn’t with me for this lunch.

    1. I’m not a big fan of Asian food and definitely no curry, so I’m good there. But the Italian food? I may need to investigate that further. Are there any dishes off the top of your head that you can confirm contain fish????

  9. This is amazingly written and I’m sorry but your pain is my pleasure. Hilarious. I just had Caesar salad before reading this and I’m not bothered. I eat fish though. If I would have found out it had beef or pork I may be sick. Good look with finding a new dressing!

    1. Are you a vegetarian?? I’m very anti-fish. It’s a shame because fish like salmon are so lean and a good source of protein… but I just can’t. Something about eating sea creatures doesn’t sit well with me (or my stomach). I don’t eat mollusks, crustaceans, or arthropods, either. (Okay, I’m not 100% sure what arthropod is anymore, but I don’t think I’d eat it.)

      1. I used to be a vegetarian but I brought seafood back into my diet because I live in Maryland and denying steamed crabs was impossible. So now I just eat seafood. No other meats. Kinda like the opposite of you 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on Chocolate Chips and Chaos and commented:
    2015_Day 23: Reblogging because I love Caesar salads, too!

    And, I loved Katie Hoffman’s recent blog post on sassandbalderdash.com about her experiences trying to order a Caesar salad in place of a house salad. Amusing, but, oh so true.

    Happy Friday. Enjoy!

    1. Thanks! My readers are the best.

      I’m not that familiar with Greek salads, but I do know there are usually black olives involved (which is another no for me). Aside from the occasional Waldorf salad or salads with things like lettuce, apples, dried cranberries, etc. I’ve been focused on Caesar for years.

  11. I really hate anchovies and I really love ceasar salads. I’m a very picky eater, and ceasar dressing is one of the very few dressings besides ranch that I’ll eat…. Now I have to sit back and rethink my life 😦

    1. I’m so sorry you had to find out this way. I was crushed, too. I’m not a fan of ranch on salads, but I like a good Italian or a nice vinaigrette (balsamic or something fruity like raspberry or pomegranate). But the Caesar salad… all the components together were just so delicious.

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