There were two magical dining spots during my college days. One is the Columbia Cottage, which I still can't bring myself to blog about because it is so close to my heart. It's like saying the name of your first love. Suffice it to say that it's an alternate universe where peace and well-being and the deepest conversations flow as freely as the all-you-can-drink boxed wine.
The other is Milano Market. Located just around the corner from my sorority house, this specialty market was rife with sandwiches, soups, pre-portioned entrees and sides, and many imported and fancy little products (olives, pickles, mustard, candies). These kinds of markets are common in the City. It's not at all where you would do your regular grocery shopping (in fact, most people don't even "go shopping," per se, but rather have their groceries delivered to their apartments), but when you want some special and frivolous little bite, it's your spot.
But the real draw - the main attraction - was the salads. The concept was simple but genius. Exactly like Subway, or any other restaurant where you customize your dish based on your whims. You have a choice of three different salad greens: romaine, spinach, baby mixed greens. Then you just go crazy, telling the guy to put anything and everything in there. I want to say there were about forty options. Chicken (grilled, pesto, sundried tomato), ham, bacon, olives, broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, tomatoes, peppers, pepperoncini, avocado, kidney beans, cucumbers, boiled eggs, raisins, dried cranberries, croutons, and probably twelve choices of dressing (and so much more). He mixed it all up for you in a big bowl, then popped it into a 20-oz container with a lid. Dinner: done. I could not begin to count the nights that we stopped here for a salad before Chapter Meeting and ate it on the stoop.
The most awesome part was the price! For a salad with chicken, I think it was about $7, with unlimited toppings. Certain ones, like avocado, might have been an additional charge. (Warning: this was all 7-10 years ago. Things may have changed!)
I find myself craving these huge, satisfying salads all the time. And the thing is, it's really much more economical to go somewhere and pay for it because amassing all those ingredients in the proper quantities and eating all of them before they go bad would cost much more than the price of your single salad. Or even two or three of them.
I brag on our sweet neighborhood all the time, but we are missing something like a Milano Market. Should I open one? Should I finally allow Jeff to satisfy his lifelong restaurant dream? Only thing is, there wouldn't be sit-down service. This is strictly a drop-in, take your lunch or dinner home or back to work kind of place. I think East Nashville might love it. Thoughts?