The salad bar features not one, not two, but five soups--again, this should insure that you'll encounter something that you like.
The all-you-can-eat salad bar at the Dayton Street Café in the Madison Concourse Hotel has been one of the downtown's best noontime treats for quite a while. The dining room's tucked away on the first floor of the hotel without fanfare, without so much as a sandwich board trying to pull folks in from the street.
I usually save the salad bar for especially harried days when I need a quiet oasis in the middle of the day. I guess things have been going pretty smoothly for me of late, because it'd been a long time since I had visited. The repast didn't seem quite as vast nor quite as tasty as I remembered it being. But it's still a decent way to rack up the veggies.
The salad bar is large enough for anyone save the pickiest eater to create something to like, although the ingredients are for the most part familiar, mainstream salad bar denizens. You're not going to find anything too crunchy here, like the nutritional yeast flakes found at the Willy Street Co-op's salad bar.
Let us start with lettuce -- there's a leaf mix of baby greens and romaine, a Caesar, or spinach to choose from. Avoid the limp Caesar -- pre-topped with a bland dressing, it lacks the tang of a real Caesar, and is certainly absent the anchovies. Instead, start from scratch with the baby greens. The spinach, with the option of a hot bacon dressing, is also a good way to go. There are plenty of chopped veggies, ham and turkey and chopped hard boiled egg, to make a loaded garden salad or a traditional chef's salad. The usual bounty of salad dressings are on hand.
The salad bar features not one, not two, but five soups--again, this should insure that you'll encounter something that you like. The Wisconsin beer cheese soup is a Dayton Street favorite, but this visit, it was salty and more like a tortilla dip than a soup. The roast chicken and Portobello mushroom soup was mostly broth. The vegan bean was sweet and tomato-based, rather unlike what I expect from a bean soup, but with kale, celery and kidney beans rounding out the veggie slate. Aside from the unusual sweetness, this was probably the most successful soup. There was also a French onion and a veggie chili to choose from.
Expect to find a handful of other specialty salads, highlighting different tastes, like the unusual blend of flavors in an interesting beet, walnut and blue cheese blend, or a pesto, kalamata olive and feta cheese with penne pasta.
In addition, there are platters of cut melon and other fruits, cubes of cheese, and a basket of rolls and breadsticks. I'd stick with the multigrain roll. I seem to remember there used to be slices of deli ham and turkey with which to make side sandwiches, but those were missing... and it's hard to make a sandwich out of diced meats meant for salads. Not that you actually need to make a sandwich here.
A few spoonfuls of a dense, chocolate mint "trifle' sent me away still feeling virtuous but indulged at the same time.
The salad bar, long a steal at $7, has crept upward to $8. Bottom line: Still worth it, just choose your options wisely.
Homemade Corned Beef Update: Erin's Snug Irish Pub has revised its lunch menu to include a few more sandwich items. The Rueben formerly known as "O'Ryan's Corned Beef Sandwich" has been basically split into two different sandwiches -- O'Reilly's Reuben, which features the pub's excellent homemade corned beef on grilled marble rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and 1000 Island dressing; and the Erin's Corned Beef Sandwich, an ungrilled triple-decker corned beef sandwich also on marble rye with Swiss and sauerkraut, but with the house special "Mary Rose" sauce. Both come with homemade pub potato chips and a side of cole slaw, for $6.60. Also on the lunch menu: An $8 version of the pub's Irish breakfast.