He Said | She Said: Hail to Caesar

Cardini, that is. This ubiquitous salad has nothing to do with Julius. Instead, the salad’s namesake is Caesar Cardini – as in the salad dressing brand. He was an Italian immigrant and restaurateur living in San Diego, and legend has it that the salad exploded onto the scene on our country’s birthday in 1924. To grant the common ingredients flair, Cardini prepared the salad tableside. Anchovies weren’t included – Worcestershire sauce gave the original salad dressing its salty, meaty flavor.

Becky’s Caesar salad profile: When it comes to Caesar salad, I’m a purist. You won’t see me in Extreme Cuisine, but there is a thrill to feeling like I’m taking my life into my hands now and then, so give me a dressing made with real egg.

Simon’s Caesar salad profile: Caesar salad is the perfect crossroads for my favorite ingredients: cheese, fish and greens. I’m looking for freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago. I not only want to taste anchovies, I want to behold them in all their salty glory. Lastly, I want fresh romaine greens, with not a hint of wilt or bitterness.

603 E. Lockwood Blvd., Webster Groves
Sun. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to midnight

Becky: Call me a food snob, but the Parmesan on this salad lacked sharpness and depth.
Simon: The salad itself was small, but the price was also low. It was definitely a lunch salad.
B: I was wary of the new-fangled croutons, but I have to admit, those were delicious.
S: The highlight of the salad, really. Two crostinis, one with olive tapenade and the other with a creamy, sweet goat cheese. I would have been happy with a plate of those.
B: The dressing did have a very strong anchovy flavor, and it was salty, which got my thumbs up.
S: My thumbs down, because the dressing was overly sharp, more vinegar than oil.

Il Vicino
41 N. Central Ave., Clayton
Sun. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

B: The first thing you notice about this salad is the two big anchovies sitting right on top. So behold those, Simon.
S: Ah, yes, salty, meaty, fresh. They take some guts to eat, and I love ’em. I also love the speedy service – almost as soon as you sit, the food is served up.
B: There’s some part of me that wants to shout, “I’ll have the No. 2 with fried onions and extra roasted garlic on the side!” whenever I walk in here. It’s an odd blend of culinary culture, with a cafeteria-style food line followed by first-class table service.
S: The cheese was also first-rate. The salad came with thick strips of Asiago, and they offered to grate more at the table. I’d never say no! It’s got great flavor – sharp, moist and biting.
B: It’s the dressing that makes this salad a regular pit stop for me. Creamy and full of garlic and lemon, with just the right balance of acidity.
S: The chopped romaine was a nice mix of green parts and the spines. The croutons were generous and scattered throughout the salad. Little bites of lightly oiled, toasted, rich, brown crumbs. They added a consistent crunch to the salad, and you got some with almost every bite.
B: This classic Caesar salad was the best value for the money.

Cardwell’s at the Plaza
94 Plaza Frontenac, Frontenac
Mon. to Thu. – 11:15 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 11:15 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun. – noon to 9 p.m.

B: For the record, this one wasn’t officially a Caesar, but rather a romaine salad with creamy anchovy dressing.
S: The croutons were huge and baked to a dark brown.
B: Very tasty, but don’t bite them with the bad side of your mouth – you could crack a molar. With a hint of garlic and oil, they were very traditional. I enjoyed them, but there weren’t many of them.
S: Asiago cheese was used sparingly, and it was pretty dry. It didn’t have a lot of personality, as cheese goes.
B: You’re sore because there were no live anchovies. The dressing had only a hint of fish flavor, mild and fleeting.
S: The romaine was more leaf than rib. I prefer more crunch.
B: But it was very fresh and piled high.

Eleven Eleven Mississippi
1111 Mississippi Ave., St. Louis
Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. – 11 a.m. to midnight, Sat. – 5 p.m. to midnight

S: Now this was a Caesar salad to die for. I knew the Ides of March were near when I saw the baked Parmesan crisp on the side. I tried to finagle a plateful of those, but no go.
B: The presentation of the salad itself was impressive. Whole romaine leaves that were fresh and sweet, and even the ribs had no trace of bitterness, all lightly coated with dressing and arranged in an artful pile on the plate.
S: The whole leaves made it look small, but don’t be fooled. It was a surprisingly robust portion. The Parmesan was strong and sharp. A little bit goes a long way with this cheese, and the amount was just right.
B: The dressing was light and bright, the closest to the old-style Caesar salad that I’m always searching for. The lemon, garlic and egg all emulsified nicely, giving the dressing a satisfying mouthfeel without being heavy or gloppy.
S: My only gripe was the croutons. We resorted to fighting over them, but then, we always wrestle over something. I found myself wishing for a more generous portion, though.
B: It was by far the most elegant Caesar we tried, and the table service was royal. This is what I picture when I think of Caesar salad. Cardini would be pleased.
S: And Julius too.