I have a serious thing for diners and their intrinsic Americana nostalgia. Sometimes the food isn't even so hot, but I still pop in for a basic sandwich and cup of mediocre coffee every now and again. Chef Trevor Rudd of City State Diner in Portland, Oregon, walked me through one of my most beloved — and America's most beloved! — diner specials: the wedge salad. Want to know the secrets behind this iconic dish? You know you do!
City State Diner, in Portland, Oregon, defies the so-so food conundrum of most diners, and triumphs with big, fresh flavors. One of my favorite items on the menu is the Wedge Salad — the play of contrasting textures and temperatures gets me every time.
This is a large wedge of cold iceberg lettuce, tangy buttermilk dressing, sharp red onions, crusty croutons, and bacon (or in my vegetarian case, fried tofu) — oh my! This salad is rich yet light and crunchy yet soft. Perhaps it's the yin and yang of diner foods?
Trevor Rudd, head chef at City State Diner, happily shares his recipe for the Wedge Salad with us today. After trying my hand at making this at home, I can confirm that the success of this old-school dish is all in the details. Trevor's tips and recipe help us home cooks recreate a beloved (and a bit naughty!) diner favorite. This salad would be a great starter at your next dinner party or make a scrumptious addition to any summer barbecue. Dig in!
Do you ever order this type of salad? Will you be following this recipe anytime soon?
City State Diner's Wedge Salad
For the croutons:
2 to 3 thick slices bread (preferably challah or other egg bread)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
For the blue cheese dressing:
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
For the bacon (see Recipe Notes for vegetarian tofu alternative):
3 to 4 strips thick-cut pepper bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
For the salad:
1/2 head iceberg lettuce
1 large tomato
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup slivered red onion
2 tablespoons chives, or chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Make the croutons: Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut the bread in medium to large cubes. Place them in a large bowl. Drizzle the oil evenly over the bread, tossing as you go. Make sure not to soak any one piece, as that will make for a soggy crouton or two and will keep the seasoning from sticking to the rest of them. (If you have an olive oil sprayer, that is ideal to get light oil coverage on all the bread.)
Mix the thyme, white pepper, salt, and garlic together. Add this spice mix to the bread and toss to coat evenly. Spread the bread cubes in one layer on a baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Toss the cubes, spread them out again, and return to the oven. Continue baking, stirring every 5 minutes, until the croutons are nicely browned. (Total baking time will vary depending on your oven and the type of bread you use.) Make sure to check frequently so the croutons don't burn.
Remove the croutons from the oven and let cool. Croutons can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.
Make the dressing: Whisk all ingredients together until mixture is smooth and well-combined. This dressing can be made ahead and kept refrigerated until ready to use. If the dressing separates, whisk or shake to recombine.
Cook the bacon: Spread the bacon strips on a baking sheet. Bake the bacon in the oven at 400°F for roughly 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the brown sugar liberally over the hot bacon and place back in the oven for 3 to 5 more minutes or until the sugar has visibly “candied” the meat. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
The bacon can be made ahead and kept refrigerated, but warm it for a few minutes in the oven before serving.
Assemble the salad: Cut the lettuce into two equal wedges and place on two plates. Pour enough dressing over the lettuce to get good coverage. Cut the tomato into wedges and distribute evenly between the two plates. Sprinkle the blue cheese over this and add the slivered onion, bacon or tofu, and croutons. Garnish with chives or parsley and enjoy immediately.
Vegetarian Alternative:Instead of bacon, you can make this salad with fried tofu. You'll need 2 to 3 ounces extra firm tofu, cornstarch, and olive oil. Heat a saucepan with about a half inch of oil on medium high heat until a drop of water “pops” when added (or to about 350°F). If you have a home fryer, use that instead. Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch cubes. Place enough cornstarch in a bowl to coat the tofu. Toss the tofu in the cornstarch until nicely coated but not clumpy. Add tofu to the hot oil and fry until golden. (Note: This cornstarch method is by far superior to any other way I have tried to fry tofu.)
Thanks, Trevor, for sharing this delicious diner recipe! Visit City State Diner: City State Diner
This recipe was originally published June 2011.
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)