By Cynthia McFarland
As summer rolls into Central Florida, the thought of turning on the oven to cook dinner does not top my “to do” list. Steamy days make me crave something satisfying, but not heavy. Brimming with the season’s freshest produce, entrée salads make an ideal meal, and better yet, several locally owned eateries have turned salad-making into an art.
With that in mind, I ventured out to find the most popular salads at four Ocala restaurants. Lunch or dinner, it beats cooking at home!
If you thought this award-winning restaurant was just about fine dining and “substantial” meals, you’d be wrong. As fellow Ocala Style writer Jean Gilman and I happily discovered, you can have a very reasonably priced lunch in an elegant Victorian setting with high-end service.
Owner/chef Loring Felix takes his salads seriously. “I don’t buy anything but raw ingredients. Everything is made from scratch.”
We enjoyed Felix’s two most popular salads: the Vine-Ripened Tomato and the Jamaican Chicken. Despite the artful presentation, dishes here aren’t ostentatious. Felix makes sure they taste divine and don’t just look pretty.
Enormous, juicy slices of beefsteak tomato are topped with creamy fresh mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, basil leaves, and ricotta salata cheese. A dark balsamic reduction adds just the right amount of tanginess. Don’t kid yourself. This is definitely a meal!
The Jamaican Chicken salad highlights tender jerk-spiced grilled chicken atop romaine with a honey rice-wine vinaigrette. Thin slices of seasonal fruit surround the plate, in addition to golden raisins, toasted coconut, and Macadamia nuts. The combination of sweet and spicy is absolutely perfect.
When new owner Juan Bohorquez bought this well-liked downtown eatery in March, he also bought the original recipes on which former owners Linda West and David Foty built the establishment. Smart move.
Aaron Hershberger, the general manager and cook, worked with Linda and David previously and continues to prepare the dishes just the way patrons expect. “Eat healthy, be happy, enjoy life” is Mango’s slogan and the salads here attest to that upbeat mantra. The breezy tropical decor adds to the light-hearted atmosphere.
Mango’s Sunshine Salad and the Chicken Fiesta Salad are equally popular, says Bohorquez. We took his word and tried both.
Slices of spicy, tender chicken breast top the Chicken Fiesta Salad, featuring pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, black olives, cucumber, red onion, sprouts, and pepperoncini on a large bed of greens. The Mexi-ranch dressing is perfect, cool and creamy with a little kick. Homemade salsa with cilantro tastes great on the salad and the accompanying tri-colored corn chips.
Mango’s Sunshine Salad can be ordered with chicken, shrimp, or vegetarian. A generous assortment of fresh fruit, shredded carrots, and almonds top the bed of greens served with a strawberry mango dressing. Ordering the chicken or shrimp will make your salad heartier, but it’s certainly satisfying without either. The fruit and the dressing alone make a fine summer meal.
One bite and it’s easy to tell everything is made in-house. “Fresh,” says Bohorquez, “that’s the key to this business.”
Once open only for lunch, this summer Mango’s has started opening for dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Wayne’s Brick City Café
This tucked-away breakfast and lunch spot has been a favorite of downtown patrons for 17 years. Owner Wayne Langler can be found in the kitchen every day, along with his “right hand cook,” Miss Helen.
During mild weather, patio dining is common at Brick City Café. Inside, a floor-to-ceiling garden scene is painted across one entire wall.
“If I tried to take this off the menu, they’d probably hang me,” laughs Wayne, referring to his wildly popular Salad Plate. “I’ve had it on the menu ever since I opened in 1989.”
A big reason for the demand is that the Salad Plate has several options, making it appeal to a huge variety of customers. You can have your choice of tuna, crab, chicken, or summer salad, along with two other helpings of potato salad, cole slaw, fruit salad, or pasta salad.
The fact that you have a number of choices makes it possible to order the Salad Plate frequently without eating the same thing. Brick City Café patrons figured this out long ago and have made the Salad Plate a mainstay, particularly during the summer months.
I went for the crab salad (a personal favorite that’s mild and slightly sweet), the fruit salad (a dressing-free serving of fresh-cut seasonal fruit), and pasta salad. Don’t worry about walking out hungry. The Salad Plate features such large portions that a Mini Salad is also on the menu, offering half portions of the same choices.
Not far behind in number of orders is the Taco Salad, a hearty meal that is sure to satisfy big appetites, thanks to the heaping serving of chili over a bed of lettuce, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, and salsa.
Wayne does a big takeout and delivery service in the downtown area, as well as serving his eat-in clientele.
As the Mediterranean diet continues to gain in popularity, Laki’s Restaurant can only expect to sell even more of their already in-demand Greek salads.
Owner Maria Angelidakis celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the restaurant named after her husband, Laki, this February. Formerly on Lake Weir Avenue, the establishment has been located in the Colours Plaza on College Road for the past four years.
There are only two salads on the menu at Laki’s, but choosing between them is tough. My girlfriend and I decided against picking just one and found that enjoying the two together was a winning move.
Laki’s Famous Greek Salad combines shredded lettuce and strips of shredded ham with crumbled feta cheese, slices of ripe tomato, and peppercini peppers. The house dressing of wine, vinegar, and oil is served on the side so you can make the salad as juicy as you like. You can order small, medium, or large, and add grilled chicken, if desired.
Plenty big enough for sharing, the Village Salad looks and taste like Mediterranean summer. You’ll find no lettuce under the heaping portion of tomato wedges, slices of peppers, onions, cucumbers, olives, pepperoncini, and wedges of feta, splashed with pure olive oil.
“This is what you’d get if you order a ‘house salad’ in Greece,” explains manager Martha Stratigos. “This is the more traditional Greek salad.”
Laki’s Famous Greek Salad has been “Americanized” by the addition of lettuce, she notes. “In Greece, lettuce is just for the rabbits!”
917 E. Silver Springs Blvd.
Lunch: 11:00am-2:30pm, Tuesday-Saturday
Dinner: 4:30-10:00pm, Tuesday-Saturday
20 SW Broadway Street
Wayne’s Brick City Café
10 NE 1st Street
3405 SW College Road (in the Colours Plaza)
11:00am-11:00pm, Friday & Saturday
By Cynthia McFarland