Grill-savvy chefs give the humble romaine salad a scintillating makeover.
546 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix
The suddenly fashionable-again grilled romaine salad upends the notion that lettuce can only be eaten cold. At Taco Guild, the kitchen brushes dense and firm romaine hearts ($8, pictured) with olive oil and salt and pepper before placing them on a “screaming hot” grill, says restaurant spokesman Luke Detraz. The idea is to achieve some color on the leaves while leaving the crunchy texture intact, he says. The salad plate-up includes generous sprinkles of fiery jalapeño bacon, gluten-free blue cheese crumbles and red, yellow and brown cherry tomatoes tossed with chopped basil. The kitchen drapes the salad in a creamy, herb-heavy cilantro dressing with just enough tang to offset the strong bacon and blue cheese flavors while bringing out the singed flavor of the leaves. “It’s a standard Cobb salad that meets fire and smoke,” Detraz says.
PHX Beer Co.
8300 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
Because beer is the main attraction at a brew pub, food can sometimes be an afterthought. That’s not the case at PHX Beer Co., where they offer serious brew pub food and dishes that harmonize with beer, including the popular grilled romaine salad ($8). The kitchen splits a head of romaine, smears lemon-anchovy dressing on top and then grills and chars the leaves, searing them outside while they remain crisp inside. Chefs then garnish the whole shebang with house-made focaccia croutons peppered with garlic and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. “This hot and cold salad works perfectly with some of our lighter beers,” says spokesman Rich Stark. He recommends pairing the greens with PHX Beer Co’s Bird City Lager or Arizona Gold to enhance the Caesar-salad-like flavor profile.
2530 W. Happy Valley Rd., Phoenix
Osteria Mia owner Mario Rana first encountered grilled romaine salad ($9) while working at a Chicago restaurant. “I just loved the concept of caramelizing the sugars in the lettuce,” he says. Rana splits a head of romaine down the middle, seasons the leaves with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper, then grills them mindfully, lest they become soggy, he says. The outcome is crunchy lettuce with a sweet, smoky flavor. Rana dresses the salad with a dreamy house-made Caesar dressing fortified with anchovies, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, then tops off the fronds with baguette and ciabatta croutons, cherry tomatoes, red onions and frico (cheese crisp bits made from baking a thin layer of Parmesan). Rather than chopping up the lettuce, Rana provides a steak knife. “You’ve got to work for it.”