Heaping helpings of health 

The Salad Mill offers nutritious, fast alternatives on Indy's Southside

The Salad Mill offers nutritious, fast alternatives on Indy’s Southside
Men of Indianapolis, do not fear the humble salad! At the Salad Mill, a cheery little strip-mall eatery just southeast of the intersection of Stop 11 Road and Emerson Avenue, the salads are anything but meek. The chef is piled high with turkey, ham, cheese and bacon. The cobb adds chicken and bleu cheese. This isn’t diet food you eat in your legwarmers after an hour of jazzercising. This is food that will fill you up and send you back to tackle any of your day’s tasks with renewed vigor knowing you’ve fueled your body with something other than a burger and fries.
A cobb salad ($5.99) was a whopping plate of greens with traditional cobb toppings along with hardboiled egg, bacon, grape tomato, cucumbers and purple onions.
Somehow, though, the word hasn’t quite made it around to the masses of local male diners. At lunch on a recent rainy day, the place was clearly the province of women, many Salad Mill aficionados, who had tried every one of the salads on the chalkboard by the counter. Some discussed the merits of different dressings or salad toppings. Your humble restaurant critic was the only male in the place, making me wonder if I had missed some memo or time-traveled back to the Reagan era. Thank goodness I wasn’t eating quiche. Perhaps the preponderance of female patrons should come as no surprise, given the folks behind this joint. The brainchild of three Indianapolis women who saw a city bereft of fresh, fast salads, the Salad Mill is their attempt to inspire some healthy eating in a populace often too quick to drive through for their lunch or dinner in a bag. Don’t look for paper plates in this place — and don’t hurry out if you don’t want to. The owners should know a little bit about health and nutrition, given that two of them, Cara Collins and Angie Miller, are longtime employees at Wishard Hospital. A registered nurse and a respiratory therapist, respectively, they brought Angie’s sister, Karen, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service, along to help them serve up meals low in preservatives and additives and high on flavor. Unfortunately, the space is a little too small to allow them to make many of the ingredients in house. Only the ranch dressing is made in the kitchen at the Salad Mill, and soups, muffins and cookies are also shipped in. But you can hardly fault these hardworking women for taking a few short cuts when they can. They all continue to hold down their full-time jobs, putting their blood, sweat and tears — and their own funds — into the place when they can, usually working seven days a week. To see them joking behind the counter, you can be sure they’ve found their passion in serving all things green to hungry Southsiders. They’re proud that a local retirement home recently chose them as their destination on a weekly outing. While the nearly dozen salad combinations offered do have some interesting twists like Chinese noodles and dried cranberries, the trio of salad makers have aimed at keeping things simple. A cobb salad ($5.99) was a whopping plate of greens with traditional cobb toppings along with hardboiled egg, bacon, grape tomato, cucumbers and purple onions. “Garden mix” turned out to be only iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrot and red cabbage. A sun-dried tomato pesto vinaigrette was more viscous than a typical vinaigrette, and a little sweeter than it might have been. But with a slice of fresh bread, this was leaps beyond what you’d get for $6 at just about any eatery in the area. A half-sandwich, half-salad combo ($5.99) allowed a taste of both the chicken salad sandwich and the sun-dried tomato and pinenut salad. The chicken salad, served on a croissant, smacked a bit of a grocery store deli, with a preponderance of mayonnaise and celery. But the sun-dried tomato salad was a surprisingly large portion, with generous chewy shreds of dried tomatoes, crunchy green onions and pinenuts, and plenty of sharp feta cheese on top of crisp romaine. A fat-free roasted garlic vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar was a tasty, light dressing that pulled things together without drowning them. A cup of loaded baked potato soup ($1.49) was a rich and hearty addition that would warm just about any heart. The owners started from scratch with the Salad Mill, even testing out dining room chairs to make sure that they were comfortable for a wide range of customers. Terra cotta walls and emerald green vinyl chairs might clash a bit, but there’s plenty of color to brighten a seemingly dull strip of businesses off of Emerson. Thankfully, another man did finally stop in for lunch as we were about to leave. But his wife was clearly bringing him in, and taking charge of the ordering. Maybe we men are a little slow to put down our steak and potatoes and realize what’s good for us, but if three women have anything to say about it, the whole city will soon be eating salads. The Salad Mill Stop 11 Road and Emerson Avenue 888-2540 Hours Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Food : 3 stars Atmosphere : 3 stars Service : 3 1/2 stars

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