Expensive restaurant meals and recipes for esoteric meat (a post on comparing beef aging is in the works) or complicated desserts are fun things to write about. And they get the Google hits. As a change today’s post is going to be about the prepared salads in the deli cases at grocery stores. These are remarkably popular with lunchtime customers and have, in many cases with nearby offices or premium competitors, been revamped to drastically improve quality.
For a picnic in one of the ravines that connects to Alexander Muir Gardens I picked up two salads from Loblaws, and one each from Sobey’s and Rabba.
Listen, I see that this is not a scientific test but rather an apples-to-oranges comparison. I had no desire to sample four different seven-bean salads and then run the test again for all the various mediterrenean pasta salads. The purpose of the exercise was not to award a blue ribbon to a particular dish or crown one of the stores as best. Rather, I was after rough observations that might be useful for drawing future conclusions and that could yield surprise gems.
If nothing else, like all other posts, this one will be a good personal reference in the future.
Mediterrenean Pasta from Loblaws: Very good summer flavour with a light dressing. I thought the pasta was a little overdone but that texture is quite common in pasta salad. This was narrowly our favourite. The addition of some black olives would definitely have bumped it higher on my list. $1.49 / 100 g
7-Grain from Rabba: Good texture with some interesting variation and an alright dressing. Tied for second favourite. $1.59 / 100 g.
Roasted Corn, Pepper, and Quinoa from Loblaws: A very good salad with chunks of cheese, spinach leaves, and both red and white quinoa. The peppers might have been hiding in there somewhere but not sure about the corn. I thought I found a gritty spinach leaf but that only happened once so maybe I was imagining thigns. Also, tied for second. $1.39
Moroccan Couscous from Sobey’s: I’m really torn here. On one hand I like that a mainstream grocery chain has the guts to sell a prepared dish that is actually quite spicy. On the other we just weren’t prepared for the capsaicin hit that lingered when it met oils from other salads. It’s partly just mood but this was unanimously our least favourite. $1.49 / 100 g.
Service: When I opted out of plastic bags at Loblaws I was offered a paper one to keep any spills from the inside of my briefcase. That’s a nice touch. At Sobey’s they don’t have small containers so the woman behind the counter was good enough to check with me before she filled the medium container to the top. At Rabba service was alright.
The extras: We dipped a timid toe into the bakery waters as well. The dark rye bun from Sobey’s was surprisingly good given it’s stodgy appearance but the challah twist from Loblaws stole the show. In fact spread with a hunk of this cheese, leftover from last weekend and softened by the hot weather, it was the consensus best bite of the meal.
Other thoughts: I know from the Maple Leaf Square location that Longo’s has a very impressive by-weight salad bar. This apparently holds true for their other locations as well. The St. Clair East Sobey’s has a smaller version of the same and has done some good work to improve the appearance of their displays.
So, no standout, unforgettable tastes but actually a really nice weekday picnic. Whether it’s because of an honest cost advantage or the sheepishness that must come from marking up the ingredients they sell in different aisles the price is very good. Incidentally, the Muir Gardens to the connected ravines are a next-level Toronto trip from city, to formal gardens, to impressively natural paths. Thanks are due to Shawn Micallef’s Stroll for this excellent idea.