The Claim Company keeps salad bar the same

January 8, 2010 2:32:45 PM PST
Salad bars were invented in Chicago more than 40 years ago, and at least one new restaurant wants to keep things the way they were.They were born in an age of women's lib and fern bars- and yet salad bars endure. The latest evidence is in Northbrook Court, where The Claim Company has re-opened after years in hibernation. Their "Salad Saloon" is the focal point of the restaurant. A nod, perhaps, to the original salad bar, which is still sitting pretty in Lincoln Park.

People of a certain age will surely remember The Claim Company, which, at its peak, operated restaurants in Lincoln Park, as well as Oak Brook and Northbrook Malls. The concept was recently brought back to Northbrook, complete with a massive salad bar. It stemmed from a 1970s idea.

"That was a whole thing of being healthy and being able to create what you wanted and as much as you wanted," said Michael Holleb of The Claim Company.

The ingredients have evolved over the years.. for every mandarin orange or chopped egg, there's jicama; for every bell pepper and kidney bean: edamame or tofu. A small section off to the side offers pre-made salads, such as tuna pasta, tortellini or black bean and corn relish. Back in the main section of the bar, items like kalamata olives and hearts of palm compete with shredded carrots for attention. Facing the bar - an enormous amount of dry toppings - wasabi peas, sesame crackers, bacon bits, croutons.. even trail mix with dried fruit. Then there are the dressings: more than a half-dozen, ranging from traditional caeser to a balsamic vinegar.

"I think our biggest concern was always to make sure that we met everyone's memories of bringing it back. The comments have been we've met it and exceeded it," Holleb said.

In Lincoln Park, the salad bar was practically invented at R.J. Grunts in 1971. It was the first restaurant for a kid named Rich Melman, and his partner Jerry Orzoff, who later formed Lettuce Entertain You.

"The cook got tired of bringing everything out for Jerry and Rich to eat, so he drug the refrigerator out here one day and just let 'em make their own. So they said let's make a salad bar and a food bar, where everyone can create their own meals," said Ron Forsman of R.J. Grunts.

The salad bar is easier to manage than The Claim Company's, partly due to the positioning of the ingredients. Along with the expected items, there are some unexpected ones-- such as watermelon, radishes and chopped liver. There's a much larger fruit selection as well, and the addition of two daily soups makes the salad bar a complete meal.

"Probably over 50 percent of our customers get the salad bar in one form or another. Either add-on, or whatever; we have people who'll come just here for 'I wanna go get a salad bar at R.J. Grunts," Forsman said.

Another surprisingly good location for overloaded salad bars is just about any Brazilian steakhouse, Such as Texas De Brazil, Brazzaz or Fogo De Chao.

The Claim Company
2000 Northbrook Court, Northbrook

R.J. Grunts
2056 N. Lincoln Park West