With the students away for the summer, now is the perfect time to explore the array of restaurants located in Campustown. One of the newest restaurants to open on campus is Salad Meister, a salad-focused restaurant where you can make your own salad (or wrap) with a wide variety of fresh ingredients that are offered. I have honestly been wanting for a restaurant like this for a while, without even realizing it until it was here. I enjoy eating salads, but most of the pre-made salads that I buy do not contain all the ingredients that I would prefer to have in my salads. Therefore, I end up making my own salads most of the time, but that can be time consuming and sometimes I need a quick option. I knew I had to try Salad Meister after the rush of their opening when the students were away.
I visited Salad Meister on a recent, beautiful Sunday afternoon. When I went arrived on campus, it was even less busy than I thought it would be. Due to the construction on Green Street and most of the students being gone for the summer, it was very quiet. When I arrived at Salad Meister, I was the only customer there. I was greeted by the friendly employee behind the salad bar glass and she asked me if it was my first time at Salad Meister. When I told her it was indeed, she explained that they have pre-made salad options to choose from as well as make your own. The pre-made salad ingredients did look delicious, but I chose to make my own and have a salad made with all the ingredients that I could want.
When looking at Salad Meister’s menu, it can be a little intimidating at first because there are so many options. All of the build-your-own salads start at a base price of $8.99 with plenty of toppings to choose from under various categories. You first start by choosing your greens as your salad base and can choose up to eight vegetable toppings. For my salad, I chose mixed greens as my base and my vegetable toppings included carrots, corn, grape tomatoes, red onions, green peppers, black olives, jalapeños, and slices of avocado, which was $0.59 extra. Though the avocado was a premium topping, I was impressed when I found out it was half of a sliced avocado.
One protein is included in your salad and I chose chicken out of the options that included bacon, ham, egg, and tofu. They also offer salmon and sirloin steak as premium toppings for $1.99 extra. I had the option to add a crunch topping to my salad and chose the tortilla strips, but again, there were seven options under this category alone. There was a cheese category but my server didn’t ask me if I wanted cheese and I honestly completely forgot about it being an option. This is crazy to me because I love cheese, but I didn’t even think about it when I was ordering.
Lastly, my server asked me if I would like a dressing to finish my salad and if I would like to try one of the many dressings that they had available. They had the classic dressings like Caesar and ranch, but they also had some that I have never had before like honey lime and wasabi cucumber. I tried the roasted red pepper and garlic dressing because I thought it would go well with what I had already chosen for my salad and my server agreed.
My salad came out to be $10.47 with tax and my avocado splurge. I thought that it was a little pricey for salad but if this turned out to be my perfect salad, then it would be worth it. I chose to take my salad to go and enjoy it outside since the weather has been so nice lately. As I was grabbing some napkins and utensils for the road, I noticed a sign on the wall that said, “Everything here at Salad Meister is compostable or recyclable.” And this was placed right above a recycling can instead of a garbage can. I thought that it was pretty cool and made me feel even better about my choice of trying Salad Meister.
When I was able to eat my salad, I opened the container and admired how it looked. Even though the server made it in front of me and didn’t place any of the ingredients carefully for presentation sake, the salad looked beautiful! I could tell already that all of the ingredients were fresh just by how colorful and appetizing they looked. No wilted lettuce or sad toppings here.
I drizzled about half of the red pepper and garlic dressing on top of my salad, mixed it up a bit, and tried getting a good first bite with as much toppings in one forkful that I could manage. It was just as good as I had hoped. The lettuce and veggies were very fresh and flavorful throughout the whole salad. The grape tomatoes were firm but juicy when I bit into them. The green peppers, carrots, and red onions provided a definite crunch while the olives, corn, and avocado were soft and chewy. The mix of these textures along with the southwestern flavor of the dressing was wonderful. The only disappointment for me was the chicken. It was dry and just tasted like flavorless, cubed chicken. I was expecting a little more from it since it was the only protein in my salad. I will say that the portion of the salad was huge. I only ate half of it before feeling full. This made the price of the salad more worth it to me since it was so big that it could be used for two meals.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience and my salad from Salad Meister. I will be visiting again to try more flavor combinations and ingredients. This is a great option for anyone who is picky about what is in their salads, as well as people like me, who love everything in their salads. I would also highly recommend this place to anyone who is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or has any other dietary restriction. The make your own salads allow you to decide exactly what is in it and with their endless options to choose from, you won’t feel like you are missing out.
Salad Meister is located at 601 6th Street, Suite 104, Champaign and open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
All photos by Brittany Busboom.