The Yia Yia (front) and the Fresh Prince are signature salads, but you can also build your own.
Now that the sun is to our south, the Hub apartment building in the 500 block of State casts a long shadow on the streetscape. There is no “sunny side of the street” any more, despite what architect Jeff Zelisko told a community meeting in 2013 about how the shadow of the building would not fall on stores across the street.
Many of those attending that meeting also worried that rents for storefronts in the new building would preclude homegrown restaurants from leasing there. Today, the ground floor of the Hub houses boutique chains Naf Naf Grill, Mooyah, Colectivo, Glaze Teriyaki and the latest, Salads Up.
The best of the bunch is probably Naf Naf, though for a hamburger chain, Mooyah has variety going for it — its black bean veggie burger is good, and its recent turkey burger special with cranberry sauce and fried onions (dubbed “the Crandidate”) was delicious.
I mention this because I don’t dismiss these eateries out of hand just because I would prefer to see a restaurant like Hüsnü’s there. I like Naf Naf and Mooyah well enough to grab lunch at them occasionally. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to return to Salads Up.
The original Salads Up opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2015. This is its only other outlet. It signals the arrival of multi-add-on chopped salad in Madison.
True, we are behind the curve on this one. The chopped salad is “the lunch of choice in the Northeast,” wrote The New York Times — in 2013. Salads with an array of toppings are assembled in a bowl, then dumped on the counter and diced into submission with a mezzaluna or two.
According to the Times, what the chopped salad has going for it is “flavor distribution,” i.e., all the add-ons that make salads fun to eat are thoroughly mixed in. The downside: Each bite is alike, which makes chowing down a big salad pretty monotonous.
The big problem at Salads Up is that when a salad doesn’t have much flavor to begin with, flavor distribution is beside the point.
Salads Up features seven signature salads and a build-your-own option. The Yia Yia (spinach, chickpeas, cucumber, feta, olives, quinoa, tomatoes and lemon herb vinaigrette) managed to carry no spinach flavor, despite the fact that the salad is made up almost entirely of spinach. Its light sprinkling of quinoa isn’t worth bothering with; the feta and olives create the only punch, along with a lemon-herb vinaigrette.
Kale holds up to the chop better than fragile spinach, but it too was bland — weird, since kale is normally assertive. My add-ons for this build-your-own included beets and roasted cauliflower, no wallflowers, but neither emerged in the flavor distribution. Not even the carrot ginger vinaigrette added any zip.
Salads Up also serves its salads as wraps, toasted in a panini press. That’s how I ordered the SoCal Surf (romaine and arugula, avocado, roasted shrimp, olives, onions, roasted red pepper and wasabi ranch dressing). As a wrap, this combo transformed into a baby food burrito. Lettuce merged with the avocado, and everything was drowned by the wasabi dressing.
The ingredients in the Fresh Prince wrap (romaine and arugula, apple, avocado, carrots, cranberries, edamame and carrot ginger dressing) didn’t disintegrate as much, but overall it was tame — no peppery bite from the arugula, no payoff from savory playing against sweet. The breakfast wraps, with an omelet-style egg wrapped around cheese, greens and a few add-ons, turn out better. The concept of cool salad greens inside of hot egg takes a little getting used to, but my Olympus (egg, spicy feta spread, olives, spinach, tomato and lemon-herb vinaigrette) was likable enough.
Salads Up also serves two housemade soups monthly on a rotating basis. November’s tomato bisque comes out chunky, like an undercooked fresh tomato sauce. It’s good that it tastes of fresh tomato, but a bisque it is not. The other, broccoli cheddar, is brothy — not super-cheesy, but tasty. Fresh pressed juices, in an ever-changing cast of combinations, are refreshing.
The kitchen needs to give greater consideration to combining ingredients to maximize flavor. While the fare at Salads Up is healthier than the usual fast-food options, the Good Food cart and Forage Kitchen prove that there’s much more potential in wraps and salads.
Salads Up, 439 N. Frances St., 608-819-8883; saladsup.com, 9 am-9 pm daily, $6-$12