Hail Caesar

Caesar Salad
Caesar salad as prepared at the Willard Room in the Willard Hotel. (Susan Biddle - The Washington Post)
By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

America cannot get enough of the Caesar salad. In the last two decades, the simple combination of romaine lettuce, creamy dressing and Parmesan cheese has:

· Become America's most popular main-dish salad, showing up virtually everywhere from fast-food chains to white-tablecloth restaurants to the takeout counter in the supermarket.

· Dramatically altered the lettuce industry as the demand for romaine has skyrocketed.

· Turned the chicken-topped Caesar into the chicken item most frequently found on restaurant menus -- more often than wings or even that perennial kid favorite, chicken fingers.

And still we want more.

Three-fourths of all full-service restaurants now offer a Caesar salad, compared with 57 percent just a year ago, according to a new survey of the country's top 500 restaurants by market research firm Technomic.

Dole Foods, which introduced the bagged Caesar salad kit 12 years ago, says sales of its classic Caesar kit continue to grow each year, despite competition from other companies and Dole's own eight other bagged salad kits. "Americans just don't get tired of that flavor," says Eric Schwartz, president of Dole's fresh vegetable division.

Although the Caesar may seem like the all-American salad, it actually was invented in 1924 by an Italian immigrant in Mexico.

Caesar Cardini, owner of a popular Tijuana restaurant, concocted the salad one night for some late-partying Hollywood guests, most food historians agree. He used romaine, then considered an uncommon delicacy, and just six ingredients to make a creamy dressing: garlic, olive oil, lemon, egg, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.

The salad was prepared tableside, and posh restaurants in Los Angeles soon began offering it as well.

"The ingredients today don't impress us, but back then they were much more expensive and difficult to find. The Caesar, when it was first introduced, was considered exotic," says Vogue magazine food critic and author Jeffrey Steingarten.

As ingredients like olive oil and Parmesan cheese became more common, however, the Caesar made the jump from upper-class rarity to mass-culture staple.


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