April 28, 2011

Restaurant Review: Chopt Creative Salad

Today was a super productive day for me – which is why I’m not writing this blog post till so late at night! But I wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit more about my latest obsession: chopped salads.

Up until this year, I had never had a chopped salad before. The classic “chopped salad” is what a lot of steakhouses serve: iceberg lettuce, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, avocado, blue cheese, bacon, tomato, onion, and an egg. Not so healthy, as far as salads go! However, while on the quest for a healthy meal at my old project in Washington DC, I discovered Chopt Creative Salad Company.

Like your regular salad bar, Chopt allows you to go down the line and pick out the ingredients you want. Unlike a regular salad bar, where you just pile one thing onto the next into a strata of different ingredients (and then end up eating one thing at a time because it’s too hard to get one bite with everything in it), “Choppers” take everything you picked, dump it onto a cutting board, and use a mezzaluna (a two handled blade) to finely chop it all up, toss it in a bowl with your dressing of choice, and put it into a big bowl for you to enjoy. And when I say big, I do mean big – check out this pic of me with a Chopt salad – it’s seriously as big as my head!

While I was in DC, I used to pick up Chopt for lunch probably three or four days a week. The cool thing is, their menu has 16 different combos on it (three of which are seasonal and rotate every 2-3 months), plus a “customer craft” option to make your own… so I never got sick of salad! there were just so many different options to choose from; it was like having a different meal every day. If my coworkers were going for Chinese, I’d pick up the Grilled Asian Salad; if they were off to find Indian, I’d make a Kebab Cobb; and if they were going for barbecue, I could comfort myself with the Chopt Po’Boy. There was seriously a salad for every single flavor profile, and I loved that I could eat healthy without feeling deprived and while satisfying my cravings.

Not all of the “choppings” are totally healthy from a diet perspective; however, I should note that all the ingredients are top quality, even if some of them (like the cheese), aren’t as low in calories as I’d like). I found that it was very easy to use the combos for inspiration, then make my own “customer craft” salad with substitutions or fewer of the unhealthy ingredients, plus extra low calorie veggies. For example, the “Mexican Caesar” (one of my favorites) is traditionally made with romaine lettuce, cotija cheese, jalapeno, tortilla chips, and Caesar dressing; I would make my own healthier version of the Mexican Caesar with romaine, crumbled egg (instead of the cheese), jalapenos, bell peppers (for more bulk without many more calories), black beans (for extra protein), and some tortilla chips (because I deserved a little treat!). Instead of the traditional dressing, I’d opt for the “Spa Caesar” dressing, which contains only 40 calories and 3 grams of fat. Total nutritionals for the gigantic and indulgent-tasting salad: 336 calories, 12 grams of fiber, and 17 grams of protein. Woo hoo!

When I really needed to detox with something healthy, my favorite pick was to make my own version of a harvest salad: baby spinach, arugula, beets, granny smith apples, broccoli, egg whites, and grilled asparagus, with the Spa Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing. 221 calories, with the dressing included, as well as 10 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein! (All nutritionals are readily available on the Chopt website, thanks to their awesome build-a-salad calculator that lets you see the impact of each “Chopping”). Despite that low calorie count, my version of a harvest salad was still the same huge size that totally fills you up and leaves you sated.

You may have noticed that in both of my favorite salads, I used “Spa” dressings; they are one of my favorite things about Chopt. Each store makes all of their dressings in small batches on the premises, and they have an entire line of TEN dressings that they put in their “spa” category – meaning, less than 45 calories per serving! Dressing can be one of the worst offenders in the “unhealthy salad ingredients” category, and so many restaurants have only one type of dressing that’s healthy (and even then, it’s often made with tons of processed junk I don’t want), so I loved that at Chopt, I had a ton of options to choose from while still keeping it healthy – and using all-natural ingredients. To lighten it up even further, I still requested my dressing on the side and then added it as needed – I found that I often didn’t even use the full serving.

If you’re in a rush, I’ll let you in on my little secret that my coworker Rachel and I used every single day. While the line at Chopt was always ridiculously long (at the Chinatown location where we went, it would literally snake out the door and down the street some days!), you can bypass the line entirely by ordering online through Seamless Web. Every day at 11:30am, Rachel and I would remind each other to place our Chopt order for the day… and then around 12pm, we’d walk to Chopt, bypass all the poor saps waiting in line, and head straight for the registers, where our salads would be all packed up and waiting for us to just verify our names and orders – we didn’t even need to pay, since we’d done that online with a credit card. We were such regulars that the girls at the registers even knew our names and would get our salads from the holding area while we were still walking up to the counter! (Fabi, I miss you – thanks for always being awesome). We’d be in and out with our salads in less than one or two minutes – sometimes too fast for me to even take a second to check in on Foursquare, which I’m totally addicted to. On days that we were pressed for time with meetings and deadlines, our coworkers would often just hit the client’s cafeteria on the ground floor, reasoning that they didn’t have time to go wait in line at one of the fast food restaurants around… but I could go pick up my Chopt in the same amount of time. Love it!

And since all of you are such internet denizens, one other thing to point out is that Chopt is extremely awesome at responding to customer feedback both on Facebook and Twitter. One time , my Chopper seemed to have been a bit rushed in putting my order together, and I found that my salad hadn’t been chopped it all – it seemed like they had just mixed it up but not used the mezzaluna. I posted a message about it on Twitter (noting that it was the first time my salad hadn’t been perfect, out of about 50 times that I had ordered Chopt)… and within 10 minutes, I had a Tweet back offering apologies and a coupon to come back and try again! While many companies have social media just because it’s the new trendy thing to do, I really appreciate that Chopt replied to every Facebook post and every Tweet, usually very quickly as well. It’s always a good sign when you see a company graciously accepting criticism, trying to fix their processes, and trying to make it up to you. Kudos!

Since I am working from home right now, in the interest of fulfilling my “one salad meal per day” rule, I’ve been making my own salads… but I’ve started mixing and chopping the salads I make at home now! My versions don’t come out nearly as pretty as the store versions, but I still love them – it just tastes better to me now to have my salads chopped, since you get a little bit of everything in one bite. Plus, I love not winding up with big pieces of lettuce hanging out of my mouth (yes, even if I’m eating home alone – it makes me feel like a sloppy pig). Tonight, my dinner was a DIY version of their Kebab Cobb: grilled chicken, light feta, grilled onions, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, and a bit of crumbled up matzoh for crunch (since I didn’t have pitas on hand to toast). I even made my own version of the Spa Tzatziki dressing to go with it, out of nonfat sour cream, garlic, dill, a splash of lemon juice, and some red wine vinegar. Yummy! And clocked in around 320 calories.

Unfortunately for me, there is no Chopt in Dallas, where my next work assignment will be… but there is one in Times Square, which is pretty close to my home office in New York where I’ll be working on Fridays. Any New Yorkers up for a Friday lunch date? I know a great place… 🙂

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to note that last week, I was invited to lunch with Lysa, the marketing guru of Chopt – we got to know each other because I was so active and vocal on Facebook/Twitter about my love for Chopt. After our interview, she gave me a free salad as thanks for meeting with her and giving her my feedback on Chopt operations and recipes. However, it was my idea to write this post to share my love of Chopt with all of you, and I was not compensated for this review in any way.


9 thoughts on “Restaurant Review: Chopt Creative Salad”

  1. what a great restaruant idea!! I love the idea of being able to enjoy all the tasty goodness of my favorite salad toppers in each bite. Awesome! I am so hungry now!

  2. Brett, it works SO well with the Insanity meal plan too – just tons and tons of fruits/veggies to choose from, and so many ways to make a 300 cal meal!

  3. Great job on the homemade salad! I heart Chop’t too….especially their Chopped salad (it’s not the healthiest, with the bacon and the blue cheese, but I get the spa dressings, so I tell myself it balances out.)
    I just recently noticed that you can buy their dressings by the bottle in this store. I was SO excited because there are a couple I’ve been trying to replicate at home (taziki yogurt and spa tex-mex ranch) that never turn out as yummy.

  4. I’ve never tried a chopped/Chopt salad before, and since Chopt are unfortunately not international, it looks like I’ll have to make a go of it on my own! It is definitely a good idea, though – in my salads, there’s always some lettuce left looking sad at the end, wouldn’t be a problem if it was all chopped and mixed!

  5. I loooove Chopt. There’s not one super close to my office, but on special ocassions my coworker and I head down to Union Station so we can grab it. I’m so excited to learn about the order-in-advance option though! That will save us so much time!!!

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