When I was growing up, my mother served a salad every night, so, of course, I prefer beautiful giant salads over just about anything. When crisp vegetables and lettuces come together and the dressing enhances and doesn't drown out the main ingredients, you have something special as a meal opener or even a full entrée.
There are many wonderful salads around the Suncoast, but these stand out for their freshness and creativity:
239 S Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740, indigenoussarasota.com
Chef Steven Phelps has a perfect handle on delicate salads, with the ingenuity to use black garlic as a key component in his dressing. Served with hydroponic Bibb lettuce, carrots, radishes and fennel, the salad comes dressed with Phelps' black garlic vinaigrette, a dusting of Manchego and sumac poppadom crunch. Your tastebuds open with glee, setting the table for a perfect meal.
5353 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 925-4444, creekseafood.com
A giant platter of tropical freshness, the calypso salad comes with your choice of several different grilled fish. While I usually order the salmon, the restaurant's grouper is a perfect substitute. Set atop grilled plantains, chickpeas, crisp green beans and mixed greens, it's a colossal entrée salad and a Saturday lunch ritual.
5758 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-1232, isanthairestaurant.com
Whether you order it extra spicy or (like me) mild, this salad offers strings of green papaya tossed with fresh Thai chilis, palm sugar, roasted peanuts and lime juice.
1578 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-2683, phocalisarasota.com
For me, it's always a touch choice between No. 79, with rice noodles and steak, and the shrimp and pork lotus stem salad, a house specialty. It's the crispy shallots that send this simple pleasure over the top. Young lotus stems are layered with shrimp, sliced pork, shredded Vietnamese pickles, those shallots and roasted peanuts. Delicious.
3688 Webber St., Sarasota, (941) 217-5635, bushidosushisrq.com
A beautiful salad made with julienned strips of crisp, juicy Fuji apples, thinly sliced chilled shrimp, octopus, clams, kani and thinly peeled slices of cucumber and gently tossed in a slightly sweet Japanese mayonnaise with a salty balance of red and black caviar and sauce. This might be your new go-to summer salad.