ChickencaesarsaladOriginally posted, 8/13/07 (alas, I have yet to rid America of this tragedy):

Does anyone know who first put cooked chicken breast on a Caesar salad and called it a Chicken Caesar?  I wish I did.  I’ve been upset about this at least for two years now because I remember railing to Todd English and Ming Tsai about it as we traveled together for an erstwhile cooking show.  “The Chicken Caesar is an emblem of the mediocrity of American cuisine!” I would cry.  Ming would chuckle and turn up the volume on his iPod, and Todd more or less ignored me as a run-of-the-mill crank screaming into the nor’easter of American food culture. Or so I thought.

Last week I had lunch at a Cheesecake Factory in Cleveland, and of course, there it was, Caesar Salad, two prices, one plain, the other with chicken [I would return two years later for this video review; I ordered fettucini Alfredo and the waitress asked if I wanted chicken on it; what is with this country?!].  You can run but you can’t hide.  Worse, this week I had lunch at what positions itself as one of the most upscale restaurants in the city, Table 45, and here, at a restaurant offering cutting edge cuisine and has built a glassed in chef’s table looking into a swank kitchen, here it was in the most egregious form.  The Chicken Caesar “Bangkok Style.”

I never wanted actually to write about it, though, until I read a line from Barbara Kingsolver’s recent book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about her family’s efforts to eat locally for a year.  “No matter what else we do or believe, food remains at the center of every culture.  Ours now runs on empty calories.”

The first part of that statement resounds with truth and hope—those of us who love food understand it as a fundamental part of our humanity: that the gathering, preparing and sharing of our daily nourishment is the core of our days and who we are.  It is at the very center of our culture.  And our legacy, the content of that culture, judging from the sheer volume of portions served, is surely the Chicken Caesar, bottled dressing, thickened with Xantham gum.

Why is it so annoying to me?  It’s not that meat on a salad is bad.  I love meat with salads—tuna, chicken, and beef have rich salad histories throughout the world.

Every single laminated menu serving any kind of American or American hybrid food seems to include the Chicken Caesar (if it’s Mexican, it will be a Chicken Caesar Taco).  Why?  Two reasons, neither of them hopeful.

The Chicken Caesar is the default meal for America eating out.  Don’t know what to have, have the Chicken Caesar.  Everything else looks like crap?  Have the Chicken Caesar.  Hard to screw it up.  The Chicken Caesar exists because everything else about American cuisine at the major chain restaurants is of relentlessly dubious quality.  Greens are greens, and chicken breast doesn’t taste like anything anyway, and I’ll lay odds that the dressing you get at Ruby Tuesdays, TGIF’s, Cheesecake Factory, Appleby’s—fill in the blank—comes out of the same jug.  But the point is, we don’t care really what it tastes like, only that it tastes like the last one we had, that it’s consistent. McDonald’s learned the effectiveness of that strategy early on.

I cringe when I see the Chicken Caesar because it represents an embrace of the misinformed and unimaginative American diner, who for better or worse continues to shape our menus.  I’ll have a salad, the reasoning goes, because it’s healthy (let’s disregard what it’s slathered with), and I’m hungry so let’s pile on some chicken breast, the skim milk of the protein world.  I’m not saying it’s not healthy, that I don’t like salad or that I think it would only be laudable were it a deep-fried pork belly Caesar (though I’d definitely give it a go if I ever saw that on a Cheesecake Factory Menu—we could batter it and call it the Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar!).

All I’m asking is for the corporate bodies that determine the menus of our mass market sit-down restaurants to consider a few more options beyond the mediocre Chicken Caesar.  Put a little imagination into it!

It’s an uphill battle, I know, and surely the corporate bodies know better than I do about the ordering patterns of the public they serve and the bottom line that feeds their salaries, but I didn’t quite know what I was up against until I traveled with Ming and Todd, two well-known, well-regarded chefs, railing against the goddam Chicken Caesar on the plane.  We were just embarking on a four-city shoot, heading to Vegas, which in many ways is a triumph in terms of offering an enormous swath of America all but unlimited high-end, imaginative food, the likes of which is only available in New York in such concentration.
Mming_todd
English has one of those restaurants, his flagship Olives, at the Bellagio at which I’ve had some terrific meals.  On our final night in Vegas, he hosted a dinner for all the folks putting the show together.  He ordered for the table and began the meal with a few signature pizzas.  With glee, with guffawing laughter, he watched a server place one of those pies directly in front of me.  Olives’ Chicken Caesar pizza.  I’ll bet he can’t take it off the menu.

Nor should he.  The pizza was delicious.

[Notes: 1) I wrote this for my August column for Restaurant Hospitality magazine.  2) I've become so inspired by the notion of a Chicken Fried Pork Belly Confit Caesar, that I am determined to make one tonight, and will post pix and the recipe tomorrow! [I was good to my word: the Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar! A few wonderful chefs actually put it on their menu in delicious protest of Chicken Caesar mediocrity.]  3) Pic at right is during Cooking Under Fire shooting, ages ago, with Ming and, far right, Todd–my daughter likes this shot because I am getting makeup, which she finds hilarious (as do I, actually). 4) 3/23/10: I was fired by Restaurant Hospitality after I wrote disparaging things about Snackwells, a Kraft product; I was, in effect, fired by a low level sales dweeb who buys ad space for Kraft; let’s hear it for free speech in America!]

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79 Wonderful responses to “From the Archives:
The Shame of the Chicken Caesar”

  • Amber

    Yeah but have you ever had a chicken caesar burrito? Spicy black beans, lime-cilantro rice, romaine, leftover roasted chicken – topped with Caesar dressing. My husband does backflips for this one. I do somersaults if we throw on mashed avocado.

    Full disclosure: I stole this idea from California Tortilla but I do it better than they do.

  • michaela

    i love the fact that you were terminated for bashing a processed product. the producers of these food-like substances have to protect their products so the majority of americans never realize they’re not eating real food, just corn that’s processed and packaged for profitability.

  • Jason

    I had a char sui pork caesar when I was travelling recently – it was amazing.

  • SallyBR

    Ok. Would I be forgiven if I confess that I love to have a nice, juicy, grilled chicken breast with a Caesar salad on the side?

    or am I in the dog house for eternity? :-)

  • Bob

    At one restaurant, where I know they don’t have ‘issues’ with deviating from a set menu, I forego adding chicken to fettucine alfredo in favor of some bacon and fresh garlic.

    But not only is the kitchen on the ball, the wait staff simply makes note of the request and says, “Of course.”

  • Fran

    You haven’t had Chicken Ceasar until you’ve had the “Cesarean Chicken Wrap” that the lonely, dusty Baskin-Robbins had on offer up in the province I lived in. The first time I walked in and saw the sign it had me rolling on the floor, much to the chagrin of the overstaffed team of people behind the counter. I had visions of a hospital room and a brand-spanking new chick being born and being placed in a “swaddling wrap with special sauce.”

    Our choices for ice cream were … limited.

    That said, I think it’s time for me to finally sit down and begin the series of “TheXpatFiles” posts I’ve been meaning to write.

  • melissa

    YES! I have, in addition to all of that, a few more gripes with the Chicken Caesar.

    1) Grilled chicken at restaurants, almost without exception (I know a few people I’d trust) is vile. The texture is vile and the taste is weird. Or boring. Or both.

    2) The Caesar salad is a decent little salad if it’s made well. Most places just sort of slap it together halfheartedly (because it’s a salad with a recipe, they don’t have to bother spending time on being creative) and then it’s just meh.

    3) Even worse, some places insist on putting hot chicken on the cold salad. I hate, hate, HATE when people do this. I do not want my crisp, fresh salad greens wilted by hot chicken. I do not want my Caesar dressing diluted with chicken juice. I do not want my cheese melted. If I wanted hot greens with melted cheese I’d order them.

    Ugh.

  • Nancy

    I see what you’re saying…but I must beg to offer a differing viewpoint.

    All of us, no matter how passionate or committed we are to good food, must occasionally end up in restaurants where the food’s main recommendation is its giant portions. The quality, taste, and presentation are all mediocre and unimaginative. On such occasions, I often find myself ordering some variation of the Chicken Caesar Salad, for many of the same reasons you cite: it’s formulaic, so it’s unlikely they’ll screw it up *too* badly. It’s mostly just chicken and lettuce which, again, may not be fabulous, but should at least be edible. And last but not least, when forced to eat in one of these places, it *is* often one of the healthier options on the menu, and one of the cheaper ones too. I don’t like wasting money anyway, and wasting money on lousy food drives me crazy.

    I try as hard as I can to avoid these food factories, and I can make a pretty great Caesar dressing at home, though I say it myself. But sometimes food is just fuel, good choices are few and far between, and a Chicken Caesar Salad is a better choice than overcooked pasta drowning in tasteless sauce, or a burger the size of my head.

    • caroline

      I agree completely, Nancy. Often my work requires me to travel to very dull places with nothing but chain restaurants, and I could easily gain weight on these trips if I didn’t stick to the salad section of the menu. I don’t eat creamy dressings, so the Caesar is out, but I often get a grilled salmon salad or some of Asian-themed salad that is pretty standard wherever you go. I see no reason to pay extra for a giant portion of something that’s heavy and fattening and still not very interesting.

  • Karen Downie Makley

    I have one and only one criteria when it comes to food. It has to be good…good tasting and good quality. Restaurants get points for imagination and courage in my book, but many restaurateurs are as timid in their offerings as their clientele is in their palates. So even if it’s a weak idea, if it is executed properly, I’m happy.

    A friend of mine was the pantry cook at an up-and-coming San Francisco restaurant in the early 90′s. The head chef was a mercurial guy with a belligerent temperament. My friend would meekly put together the egg salad, and the chef would come by his station to check. it. If disappointed, the chef would get about 2 inches from my friend’s face and bellow “MAKE IT TASTE LIKE SOMETHING!” (love that image!)

    In my opinion, I say: go ahead, America, make your goddamned Chicken Caesar Salad…BUT MAKE IT TASTE LIKE SOMETHING !

    (a return to anchovies would be a start)

  • Jessica

    What a wonderful post; it made me laugh and cry at the same time. I avoid any kind of Caesar salad at a restaurant unless it’s a very good restaurant (the dressing tends to be atrocious at most places), but Chicken Fried Pork Belly Confit Caesar? That is something I have to try!

  • michael hart

    Sorry to hear you were fired, but Cheesecake Factory is hiring for a pantry/salad position!

  • Tags

    Gotta love your Caesarschnitzel, not surprised a Kraftwank got you fired for disparaging Snackwhales.

  • Stephanie M. Clarkson

    Uhm. but most places that serve you a chicken caesar salad *do* serve it with deep-fried pork belly. That’s what bacon *is*, and almost everywhere that makes it with chicken throws in the bacon bits, too….

  • Michelle

    You hit the nail on the head, Chicken Ceasar is a default meal for dining drones across America. My daughter used to order them all the time, until she learned to make her own. Unfortunately, locally owned restaurants that used to make a decent Chicken Ceasar have gotten sloppy – pale, soggy lettuce topped wth CAFO blobs of protein, dusted with ersatz Parmesan cheese. I don’t think that qualifies as “food”, at least not in my sense of the word. I have to admit, though, once in a while I do crave a good homemade Chicken Ceasar, so am anxious to see your Chicken Fried Pork Belly. It’ll will be worthy of the ol’ Hail Ceasar!

  • Susan

    Well, if I was not expecting to see a Chcken Ceasar on a menu, I would not have gone to The Cheesecake Factory, a known chain restaurant. You are right though, the Chicken Ceasar has joined the ranks of “Standards” on almost every menu. But then, so have boneless, skinless, chicken breasts become part of the standard “rotation” at home. Isn’t that an awful term? I read that term on so many blog comments when readers praise a recipe and add..”it’s going into my dinner ‘rotation’ now” Rotation? It smacks of dooming a dish to become boring. Sorry..carried away. Oh, wait! Could it be that that is what happened to the Chicken Ceasar? Hmmm…

    • Susan

      Oh, and one more thing..I see a lot of poached eggs going into rotation lately…

  • Quicksand

    Let me make sure I have this right:

    Chicken Caesar salads are shameful because they are unimaginative, predictable, a kind of “plan B” or “fall back position” for people avoiding new things.

    . . . according to a blog post recycled from 2007.

    • Tags

      Let me make sure I have this right:

      You have to be imaginative and unpredictable every time.

      You have to reinvent the wheel in order to be imaginative and unpredictable.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    WRONG RANT Michael … THE rant is about all of that goddamn glop that goes by the name Caesar dressing. Caesar dressing, NEVER, repeat, NEVER, is prepared ahead let alone bottled. It is ALWAYS done with a one minute egg right out of the simmering water. If I ever got a chix caesar salad in a restaurant that was prepared as a Caesar should be then I might forgive the chix. But no matter chix or not, a Caesar is a Caesar only if it is prepared at the table with egg and lemon.

    Scheesch!

  • Matt

    Man! I’ve said it before, but Cooking Under Fire was the best cooking reality show ever…hands down. No drama, good cooking. The first challenge? Take this egg…cook it…go. Brilliant. Too bad it couldn’t have gone on, for whatever the reason.

  • Mimi

    I love chicken caesar but you won’t see me ordering it at a good restaurant. It is my guilty pleasure at crappy restaurants… at lunch time. Yep, send me to a crappy restaurant and I’ll be all over that chicken caesar, especially if they are imaginative enough to include avocado.

  • Andrew

    You got fired for two one-liners spread out over a year-long period on a private blog? That’s pretty much the definition of “overreaction.”

  • Mike-Oh

    It seems that the real problem is not the chicken ceaser, its what the chix-cea stands for. To lambaste all chix-ceas as a whole is a little unfair. C

  • elizabeth

    I suggest watching the opening scene from the second (I think) episode of Mad Men as a soothing antidote to crappy corporate restaurant cooking, as it’s of a waiter preparing a Cesear salad tableside, eggs, lemon and all.

    • Deborah

      Lawd, I remember those days! Not only was the taste incomparable to the so called Caesar of today, the trable-side show made it all the more special. I think my last experience was at the (since closed) Chronicle in Pasadena, Ca., around 84-85. I must admit I try Caesar Salad whenever offered at fine dining establishments, most just don’t get it. The one I had a week ago had sun-dried tomatoes!!! Not that they were not tasty, but it ruined it for me, I guess I’m a Caesar purist (then again JC says anchovies were not part of original recipe, but I am so glad someone thought to add them)!

  • Nancy

    Hello Paul,

    One problem with your rant – in most chain style restaurants a “true” Caesar salad isn’t possible. Why? Simple. LIABILITY. Undercooked eggs can have salmonella and that can be a death sentence to a restaurant – especially a chain one where there is the perception of “deep pockets”.
    Remember folks, all of these businesses simply are a mirror of what “we” the public demand.

    • Paul Kobulnicky

      Hey Nancy … I do understand that but then let’s call it Seezar Salad or some clever variant. It is a shame that the original Caesar couldn’t have some control over the use of the name. And … just in case anyone out there is worried, it is fine to order a real Caesar in a first rate restaurant where they obviously source fresh eggs.

      • Nancy

        Hi Paul,
        The freshness of the eggs has nothing to do with whether or not salmonella is present!!! Some percentage of ALL eggs have salmonella due to infections within the chickens – organic, free range, conventional – it doesn’t matter. As for naming the salad differently it would probably cause more confusion than it’s worth – a number of people are only familiar with the “untraditional” form of the salad!

      • Abigail Blake @ Sugar Apple

        Paul – The original Caesar did patent his recipe and you can buy it in any supermarket,…if you really want to, which I doubt you do. The name, on the other hand, is fair game I suppose.

        But an argument could be made that only a salad made with the bottled glop marketed by Caesar’s family could be called a Caesar salad and everything else, good or bad, should be called by another name. All Hail Seezar?

      • Nancy

        Yes, but have you ever eaten pasturized egg yolks?? They do “lose something” in the pasteurization process. Now, in certain instances, that is what you have to go with (skilled nursing facilities, for example) but they just don’t taste the same!

        • Karen Downie Makley

          I’ll agree..but if it’s between making a Caesar dressing onsite on the same day it is to be consumed or opening a gallon bottle of food service slop, I’ll gladly take the pasteurized egg yolks

      • Benjamin

        At my restaurant, we use eggs that have been pasteurized in the shell. They taste really good and you use them like any egg. No additives to make them taste weird.

      • Yogi

        I made cesear salad last night with a hardboiled yolk. Pushed it thru a sieve, worked out fine.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I have to tell you: I miss that show; I thought it was great; and I think it should be re-shopped and if necessary re-tweaked…I’ve always thought that. (I still want an 86′d skillet:))

  • Natalie Sztern

    Oh oh in my hurry to read this post i bypassed what I thought was a sentence with the word ‘fired’ in it and did a double-take…you were fired and didn’t sue??? What kind of an American are you? :)

    Cooking under Fire…that’s what it was called…i especially loved the first couple of shows interviewing the candidates….

  • Darren

    Caesar salad is depressing at most restaurants. I’ve yet to find one that can match one made at home. “What? What do you mean it’s got anchovies in it?! EWW!” The last time I got a caesar (sans chicken, because I think a chicken caesar is a stupid idea anyway) the dressing tasted suspiciously like ranch dressing with ground up parmesan and extra garlic added to it.

  • Vivian

    The problem with Chicken Caesar in most restaurants, that the chicken is usually this flavorless piece of grilled or fried and dried chicken. I also find that very few actually make the traditional Caesar dressing that I absolutely love and opt for bottled dressing. I usually stay away from this in casual dining restaurants.

  • DJK

    Well, now I’m curious about what disparaging things you said about Snackwells.

    (Have you considered saying more disparaging things about Snackwells, daily on your blog, until RH mag hires you back?)

  • Rhonda

    Ruhlman: You are my Hero.

    First off, congrats on the James Beard nomination for Ad Hoc.

    Second — you were fired by Kraft. This is awesome, and my hat goes off to you!!!!

    There is no defending chicken ceasar salad. The elephant left standing in the room is the fettucine alfredo.

    Ahh, perhaps another day…

    Once again, congratulations!

  • Kevin

    Ha -

    For years at That Very Big Database Company that I used to work for, if I was going back to my desk to eat, you can bet I had that salad with me. It was by rote, it was unthinking, and I hated it.

    I left there six years ago and I have not had one since.

    You nailed it. You really nailed it.

    Regards,

    Kevin

  • Jonny Rally

    In theory the Oreo cookie sucks hard, yet it’s goddamn delicious. It’s not the salad, it’s what it represents – a culture of consumer eaters.

  • Jenn Noble Post

    OMG I love the pic, and so remember this conversation (tirade?) during the taping of that show! Fond memories of the Chicken Caesar salad debate, among others!

    Love reading your blog!
    ps, the scottish shortbread came out wonderfully!
    Jenn, aka White Chocolate

  • Andy

    I never had a Caesar salad with or without chicken in France. If it becomes a staple there then we are truly doomed as a planet. Of course maybe by then une Salade Nicoise won’t be made with tuna.
    If Vegas can change even a little so can the rest of the U.S.A.
    Keep pounding that drum.

  • Krissy @ The Food Addicts

    wow, you really have a lot to say about chicken caesar salad! i never really thought about it as much… but you really dived deep into the reason why every restaurant has a chicken caesar salad (or just the caesar salad). if it wasn’t for the high-calorie and high-fat content of the caesar dressing, i would probably order it more often. but that’s just me.

  • Bunnee

    I rarely eat out but I do make Caesar salad and serve chicken with it – on top – so I guess that makes it a chicken Caesar. I make my own dressing, with an egg, anchovies, garlic, lemon, etc., and it is excellent. I grill the chicken. It is a fast meal, easy to handle late at night (which is when we often eat) and easy to prep in advance. I don’t like restaurant versions, with or without chicken, because the dressing is usually insipid and the Parmesan barely visible.

  • kate

    It is sad that so many classic dishes have become so bastardised and dumbed down, that what originally made them interesting has long gone (although I would argue that the addition of chicken to many things is questionable – in my book chicken has no place on a pizza either)…….to a degree, I can see why dishes like chicken caesar are on so many menus – they use ingredients commonly en place at many busy restaurants and it is merely a different configuration of lettuce, stale croutons, chicken, bacon, cheese and mayo…….an extra menu item with little extra prep………

  • rockandroller

    “I was fired by Restaurant Hospitality after I wrote disparaging things about Snackwells, a Kraft product”

    That is just unreal. People are stupid.

  • vytauras

    Any dish prepared right using right technique with care and love feels and taste good….chicken Caesar is no expectation…could be incredible and good…and terribly bad..I was in vegas about a month ago…and was exited to try OLIVEs famous pizza with prosciuto, figs and blue cheese…sounds good .salty, sweet….and I’m sure it’s probably good, but mine was not…soooo many figs , way too many, so sweet and overpowering, very , very salty prosciuto and salty blue cheese was out of balance…and crisp crust, when you bite in ti it and crumble apart…I asked waiter , what kind of prosiutto that was….couple minutes later he said , that chef is going to find out for what kind it was !! What ! Are you kidding ! He doesn’t know where his prosciuto came from ?? Anything happens ! Even at olives ! I wish I ordered that Caesar Pizza !

  • Dean

    A great rant! The real point isn’t the Chicken Caesar, but that chain restaurants like broadcast TV, cater to the lowest common denominator. The thinking seems to go “Chicken Caesar won’t offend anyone, the ingredients can be bought in large quantities, preparation is formulaic and doesn’t require an experienced line cook, so put it on the menu. Interesting, creative, offerings won’t sell in volume where chains can achieve economies of scale, and they require line cooks with more than rudimentary skills, so they don’t offer them. The country is filled with so many good little restaurants that going to a chain is rarely worthwhile. I’ve had good luck asking staff at small, family restaurants “what does the chef like to make?” The answer has never been “Chicken Caesar.”

  • Betty

    I agree with previous poster, Melissa. For some reason, the chicken on these salads is ALWAYS vile. I spend a lot of time in convention centers and it’s often the only grab-n-go lunch option and chicken is always gray in color. Blech.

  • Edward

    I am not a fan of blogs and this is the only one I followed regularly because the writing was consistently high quality, interesting, and entertaining — a rarity in blogging. But I have to say, Michael, that your blogs have become a little obsessive and shrill lately. I thought you should know.

  • JD

    Ah yes – would love to remove it form the menu – tried to by improving it to see if the thing would kill itself….nope sales went up 40% – it is still #2 of all salads – please die – but it is such a safe choice and you hit it right – safe – what about dinig out being about taste, passion and adventure about food! Some of us mass market types are trying to embrace and shift the way folks eat – we get closer everyday – baby steps and it will shift – just not any faster than the mass public is willing to shift -

  • Marc

    Why were eating at a Cheesecake Factory? And as such: You should offer no commentary. It’s the Cheesecake Factory… McDonalds…. same thing. Don’t see your issues here. You expected otherwise? Very confusing!!!

  • Danny B

    Actually, in honor of this, I made a Caesar salad last night. I had a thing of frisee laying about, got out my anchovies and made a fresh, yolky, lemony dressing. As mediocre as the bottled stuff is, it’s a revelation to actually have the fresh dressing; it could basically be a pasta sauce, with the funky, meaty anchovy taste and the creaminess of cheese and egg.

  • lex

    It has been my practice for years to not eat at any restaurant that offers a chicken or prawn addition to their czr. If I am seated and find it on the menu, I stand up and politely excuse myself…I just can’t take it.

  • Tony Spagnoli

    I removed the chicken Caesar from the menu when I took over this kitchen. I’ll do it on request only but, wish I didn’t have to. It seems that were ever I cook I have to have a Caesar salad and Salmon in some form. Now I like a good Caesar salad and I like Salmon too but, C’mon. Last month I put beautiful Cod on the menu with a caper beurre noisette and I couldn’t give it away! But I’ll bet if I had put it on top of a Caesar it would have sold like hot cakes! Sad, so very sad :(

  • craig leblanc

    michael,
    I am a chef and the chicken caesar is one of my best sellers. I enjoy eating it myself. I hear where you are coming from but…we are in the service industry and are here to serve customers!! We as chefs can throw our spin on it…and trust me i have but it is hard to mess up a good thing in my opinion. Caesar drssing opens up a world in itself…I would love to get your and other chefs caesar recipe… I have a fabulous one that is eggless that I would love to share !

  • Matt Cowgill

    You should take it as a badge of honour that you were fired for saying something truthful about a bad product! Good on you for having some integrity.

  • Michael Fong

    A salad should be a salad. I hate it when people try to make a meal of it and put in beans and meat just to make it more substantial. It ends up just looking like compost.

  • Kanani

    When I was a kid, a Caesar Salad was a very big deal. First of all, we never had it at home. We only got it at the “fancy schmancy” restaurant, and then it would be wheeled to the table and assembled by a chef. It was quite a masterpiece –and bore no resemblance to the white glop with chicken and lettuce served today.

    And it tasted nothing like the homogenized version served at most restaurants today.

  • Kanani

    Okay, so after reading several posts from chefs, the CCS is a big seller. I understand this. But still… I’m just wondering why the “rubber stamp” approach to making this salad? It always looks the same, no matter where you go. The chicken is always some frozen thing with grill marks, and variations of salt, paprika and pepper.

    So my question is, if you feel obliged to offer that shot of protein because you’ve chosen to leave out the anchovy fillets, why chicken on top of the salad? Why not make a proper Caesar Salad and then deliver the chicken onto the side?

    And what’s with that white gloppy dressing? I just don’t recall it ever being gloppy like like that.

    • Rhonda

      I completely agree with Kanani on this.

      This will never ever ever be on a menu of mine but I feel for Chef’s who are “stuck” with it due to circumstances beyond their control.

  • carri

    …and what’s up with the crappy croutons, they always serve it with substandard croutons…yuck.

  • Stephanie Manley

    Why do so many of these restaurants serve essentially the same food, and tastes pretty much the same? I don’t care if you go to TGI Fridays, Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s and many more just like them, the menu seems to be 50% the same. This chicken caesar salad can be found everywhere, and it isn’t even the wonderful pungent Caesar salad that it should be. Why do we allow restaurants to serve us these types of food? Can’t we as consumers demand a little more? I hope so, I hope we all demand something more one day, and force restaurants into giving us the variety, and flavors that we deserve.

    • Stuart Reb Donald

      They taste the same because so much of what they put on their menus is furnished by Sysco, Monarch or some other national restaurant supplier. Most corporate restaurants use a pre-made dessert brand called “Sweet Street” and to be honest they make descent desserts to be a corporate entity. Many of the soups and sauces are made by two or three companies. The chains then decide which ready-made sauce brand will be there “signature” sauce.

      For proteins they go with what is cheap – GM corn-fed beef and chicken from factory farms and farm-raised seafood imported from Asia and South America. There is a lot of negative press (and deservedly so) about the toxicity of fast food but these national chain restaurants are just as guilty of putting out the same junk. The average Applebee’s kitchen has a deep fryer, a flat grill (griddle), a char broiler and five microwave ovens.

  • Eric

    Am I weird in that I make CCS at home, from scratch, fairly often, but almost never order them at restaurants?

    A good roast chicken with a drizzle of an rich anchovy, garlic, and lemon emulsion on a bed of fresh greens IS pretty nice. Especially with some nice crusty croutons. And if you happen to have a roast chicken already prepared, it’s something that can be put together pretty quickly.

    I’ve actually had a good CCS in a non-chain restaurant. It was a made-tableside kind of thing. Very nice. The last one I had at TGImcOliveBee’s was admittedly and abomination before God and Man.

    It’s all about the execution, in my opinion.

  • William T.

    In the end, many people are perfectly happy and comfortable with consistency which explains the prevalence of restaurant chains.

    While one may think you’re arguing against mediocre atmosphere and food quality when blogging about Chicken Caesar or the Cheesecake Factory, the truth is many consumers prefer consistency over something that’s different and possibly better quality.

    When eating out is it better to go with the safe choice than that new restaurant that opened up last month?

    There really isn’t a right answer because as consumers we have different preferences and expectations when eating out.

  • Stuart Reb Donald

    Unfortunately, Michael, I’m a chef in a town that is absolutely terrified with eating anything new, different or interesting. Hands down the most popular restaurant in this city is the Olive Garden. THE OLIVE GARDEN! Cracker Barrel runs a distant second.

    The standard for comparison for a handmade meal here is how it stacks up to the Olive Garden: good but not as good as OG, as good as OG and the rarely heard oh my gosh this is better than OG.

    I share your disdain for throw away meals on a menu. I abhor fettuccine Alfredo. It’s milk and noodles. There’s nothing interesting about it but it’s safe. And to make it worse half the people who order it want to substitute Angel Hair pasta – so now it’s noodles with a side of milk.

    • ruhlman

      stuart, there’s nothing wrong with Alfredo if it’s made with good parmigiano-reggiano, on a good sturdy noodle.

      • Stuart Reb Donald

        Granted. For my own taste I usually need something zesty to counter all the cream on my palate. That’s why I tend to order it with either Italian sausage (cuz when is pork ever a bad addition) or blackened proteins, preferably shrimp. I also enjoy Alfredo sauce poured over lasagna but again there is the tang of the marinara. Typing this I just had a brain storm, some fresh diced Roma tomatoes might be just the punch I need. Thanks, Michael, now I have to go to the market and give it a try.

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