Ah, the salad bar. Long the haven for vegetarians and dieting diners, the classic steakhouse staple has arguably lost some its luster since it was first introduced in the 1950s. But on the 12th floor of the Nicollet Mall Macy's, lunchtime diners can still find one of the few bona fide all-you-can-eat salad bars in downtown. The Macy's Skyroom serves up an extensive array on weekdays with a rotating list of prepared salads and soups to make each visit unique. Not every offering lives up to expectations, but if done right the Macy's salad bar can't be beat for an affordable and fresh downtown lunch.
City Pages Best Salad of 2002
The first giveaway of a salad bar's integrity is its lettuce. Once we put the cold white plate on our tray and saw four varieties -- iceberg, spinach, romaine, and a spring mix -- we knew we were in the right place. After all, it's not easy keeping leafy greens looking presentable, and if the staff at the Skyroom can keep its salad bar fixins in tip-top shape, it bodes well for the overall experience.
The selection of salad toppings is impressive. Popular ingredients such as broccoli, garbanzo beans, and sprouts get refilled promptly, which keeps the line moving quickly during the steady lunch rush. There are some seemingly unpopular items in the mix as well. The pickled herring, for instance, seems to function primarily as a landing strip for the strips of deli sliced parmesan cheese that didn't quite make it all the way to customers' trays. (Pickled herring lovers, you've found your new lunch spot.)
Where the Skyroom truly excels is in the large selection of homemade salad dressings. Nothing can ruin a salad bar experience quite like getting to the end of the line and finding a half-empty bottle of ranch dressing and a repurposed ketchup squirt bottle with the words "oil" scrawled on it in Sharpie.
You won't find that malarky at the Skyroom. The full containers of homemade ranch, thousand island, and bleu cheese dressings are a delicious way to successfully counter any potential health gains of eating a salad for lunch (though if you're reaching for any of those three varieties of liquid gold, we'd say maybe you don't care so much about calorie counting.)
For the health conscious, there is generally a fruit-oriented vinaigrette, a mellow poppy seed, and a variety of oils and vinegars to create your own blend. We like to split the difference between healthy and decadent and grab the white balsamic dressing; it doesn't carry the heavy fattiness of thousand island dressing, but still offers a creamy taste to bring the fresh vegetables to life.
The prepared salads are a mixed bag that can either delight or call back our worst memories of residence hall food prepared by the super-duper senior who never wore a hair net. The less successful salads largely revolve around a mass of rice or orzo glued together by a mayonnaise-like sauce and dotted with poorly chopped parsley and cubes of some type of meat. We recommend sticking to the more familiar items, such as tuna noodle, broccoli salad, or any of the potato salads, which include a vinegar-based German-style rendition as well as the American picnic variety prepared with new potatoes and red onions.
After the salads, you'll find a sampling of desserts, including a respectable chocolate pudding that is considerably lighter than traditional cafeteria fare, as well as sliced oranges and full apples and pears. But don't be fooled! Somewhat counterintuitively, the desserts are not the end of the buffet. So before you go filling up that valuable tray real estate with treats, remember that you still haven't passed the soups. The soup options change daily, but the chili, minestrone, and corn chowder shouldn't be missed, nor should the bevy of carbohydrates that wait nearby. The Skyroom earns serious points for not skimping on the bread options. They serve a hearty French baguette, which is their most popular bread, as well as cheddar biscuits that are far superior to those at Red Lobster and Ruby Tuesday. (You heard us.)
At $8.95 for the basic salad bar, with daily specials and add-ons like a house-made lemonade for an extra dollar, the Skyroom is hard to beat for an affordable lunch. It's also worth waiting until a bit after noon to make sure you get a seat where you can properly enjoy the beautiful view. With a fresh salad on your tray and a view overlooking all of Minneapolis, you'll find a zen moment away from your cubicle. And remember, grab a punch card when you pay at the register to get your 8th visit on the house.
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700 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN