I'm probably going to alienate a lot of regular readers of the Munch column with this assertion, but here goes: Salads are good for you and should be regularly consumed.
Some readers probably just abandoned this column, knowing there will be no descriptions of chicken wings and pizza. But let me make my case:
I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh and was a vegetarian for more than a decade during my formative years. But I rarely ate salads in restaurants. Why? Well, at most Pittsburgh eateries, an entree-size salad usually came with french fries and ranch dressing atop a heaping bed of iceberg lettuce, rendering it unhealthy and, frankly, not terribly flavorful.
Within the past five or so years, though, I've started to understand the limitless possibilities of the humble salad when making them at home. But a tasty, hearty, meal-size salad was still hard to find. I yearned for a restaurant that would do for salads what Chipotle does for burritos -- quick, customizable and healthy-ish.
Enter Toss't, a new concept from the owner of Vallozzi's, Downtown. Located next door to Vallozzi's restaurant on Fifth Avenue, the small space formerly held Mattiniero, a breakfast and lunch joint that featured sandwiches and coffee.
Toss't has about 10 signature salads, plus the option to make a "custom toss." With five "bases," including a kale and spinach mix and baby arugula, you need not worry about watery iceberg lettuce ruining your lunch. More than 20 "toss-ins," including fruits, vegetables, quinoa, soba noodles and seaweed salad allow for limitless possibilities. Add one of eight "crunches" (nuts, tortilla chips, puffed fruit, etc.), protein (chicken, steak, tofu, egg, etc.) and cheese (chevre, cheddar, Parmesan, etc.) to round out your salad. Choose one of eight dressings or a squeeze of lime, lemon and olive oil.
These are the kind of options that can turn a simple salad into the perfect lunchtime meal.
I took three Post-Gazette colleagues -- breaking news reporter Molly Born and fellow Munch columnists Bill Toland and Moriah Balingit -- to test drive Toss't salads last week.
I decided to try one of the signature salads -- the "Sheik," multigrain tabouli and kale with baked falafel, tomato, cucumber, chickpeas and pita chips tossed in a citrus avocado yogurt dressing ($8.25). Upon ordering, I was delighted to discover the option of choosing light, medium or heavy dressing. This is important. The wrong dressing-to-other-things ratio can ruin a salad.
Molly opted for the "Bovine Bleu" salad, with romaine, arugula, steak, egg, corn, carrots, cucumber, onion and blue cheese in a roasted corn agave dijon vinaigrette ($10).
Moriah went with the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chicken," a bed of chicken, soba noodles, edamame, carrots and radish topped by massive handfuls of spinach and kale ($8.50). She said it was a bit too kale-heavy but figured it was healthy.
"I feel like I'm doing something good for my body," she said.
Bill customized his salad, asking for spinach and kale topped with avocado, carrots, radish, corn, beets, tofu, goat cheese, pita chips and Caesar dressing ($9.10). On this occasion, venturing away from the signature salads sort of threw the whole thing off the rails. The staff told Bill they were out of tofu, so he substituted shrimp. He noticed about halfway through his salad it was pita chip-less. Upon asking for the pita pieces, he instead received tortilla chips before, finally, getting his pita chips.
Back to the dressing for a second: My dining companions all opted for medium. I asked for light. Moriah's salad, dressed with squeezes of lemon, lime and olive oil, was decidedly underdressed, but the others were coated in an appropriate amount of dressing. If you choose to dress your salad in the squeezes of lemon, lime and olive oil, I'd ask for it to be heavily dressed.
And don't miss housemade drinks in the cooler toward the front of the line. We sampled the strawberry blackberry and pear basil varieties ($2.50 each) and were floored by both.
At 15, I would have been elated to find a restaurant like Toss't in my hometown. At 27, I'm equally thrilled, especially because I can get a healthy salad within walking distance of the office.
Toss't is at 222 Fifth Ave., Downtown. Information: 412-281-1113.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.