In three years as Food + Drink Editor, I have written exactly one article about salads, and I’ve put a salad in a list only twice: Baldarotta’s broccoli salad covered in Caesar dressing and Cactus Grill’s gigantic taco salad. Look, salads just aren’t my favorite. I’m probably not going to pick salad over a cheeseburger or chicken wings, but that’s not an issue at Forage Kitchen.
I walked into this review with skepticism and salad inexperience. Over two visits, I tried two salads, a seasonal grain bowl, a soup, and a greens-and-grains bowl.
Similar to restaurants like Shawarma Joint, Forage Kitchen preps each dish to order with fresh ingredients from an assembly line, so everything is customizable. Additionally, if you want to add any extra ingredients: more veggies, protein, cheeses, seeds, crunchy toppings, or premium veggies to a salad or bowl, you can.
I ordered my first salad topped with tortilla chips — and I don’t think you should be surprised.
The batatas salad ($9.97) had romaine lettuce, roasted sweet potatoes, corn, black beans, avocado, cilantro, green onions, and salsa roja. There were 40+ add-on options, and I jazzed up this salad with goat cheese ($1.50), roasted chicken ($3.50), and tortilla strips ($1.50).
It was a huge salad, and I loved the salted chips on top. The greens were well tossed so every bite had some of the salsa’s paprika and ancho flavors. The soft sweet potato chunks were great, and the black beans had the perfect texture. The avocado was pitted and sliced to order, and of course, it tasted yummy with the tortilla chips. Honestly, the goat cheese was lost in all the other flavors, so I would skip that next time, but the chicken was the best part of the salad. The pulled chicken was tender and delicious. The roasted dark meat chicken had so much flavor and went especially well with the spicy undertone of the salsa roja.
My date had the seasonal bowl: Forage frito pie ($7.94), which had black and red rice, beef and bean chili, corn, raw onion, fresh jalapeño, cilantro, and tortilla strips. This chili was meaty with lots of crumbly, juicy beef and a good spicy heat. There were three kinds of beans in the chili: black, pinto, and red, and all had a hearty cumin flavor. The diced jalapeño and white onion with the cilantro were a tasty trifecta that enhanced the chili, and the tortilla chips were crunchy, salty, and excellent.
I also tried this can of tropical kombucha ($2.95) which was made in the Forage Kitchen kombucha brewery in Wisconsin. I liked the sparkly, sour taste, and it came in a pretty can. There were a few other kombucha flavors (peach, blackberry grape, and Jasmine rose) and bottled water by the register. Plus, they had self-serve tap water by the napkins and utensils.
Additionally, I ordered a cup of butternut squash soup as an add-on ($3.50) to my salad. While the thin butternut broth had a lovely flavor, I thought it had too many sunflower seeds in it. The seeds added an odd, crunchy surprise to most spoonfuls.
On my second visit, we ordered the cashew greens-and-grains bowl and the Cobb salad.
Our bowls came with complementary half slice of bread. It tasted fresh, and I liked how soft it was.
The cashew bowl ($9.94) had red beans and rice, mixed greens, roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, pickled radish and carrot, raw bean sprouts, toasted cashews, cilantro, green onion, sesame seeds, and Thai cashew vinaigrette. Since this bowl had no meat, I added roasted chicken ($3.50) because I wanted to eat that chicken again.
The salad felt substantial because of the rice and beans throughout the greens. The red beans had a little chew not unlike farro, and the rice absorbed the dressing like it was its job. The Thai cashew vinaigrette was not overly nutty with a subtle citrus finish. The crunchy cashews deliciously foiled the tangy, sour-sweet of the pickled radish and carrots, and I liked both with bites of the five-spice cauliflower. Usually, I don’t love cauliflower, but the texture and seasoning on this cauli tasted really good. The seasoned broccoli had a tender-crisp stalk and roasty florets, and the stringy pieces of marinated chicken were delish. As the salad dressing soaked the grains, greens, and veggie medley, the salad evolved with more flavors as the ingredients mixed and mingled.
My date ordered the cultured Cobb salad ($13.97), which had romaine lettuce, corn, cherry tomatoes, avocado, bacon, egg, bleu cheese, roasted chicken, and green onion, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Just like the avocado, the staff sliced the egg to order. The red wine vinaigrette’s flavors of mustard, garlic, and honey went so well with the bleu cheese; I loved how the tart and tangy dressing cut through the pungent cheese. The bacon crumbles were thick, salty garnishes to the Cobb salad, and as I’ve said already, the chicken was great.
If you want dessert, Forage also sells a selection of treats from Martinelli’s Market.
While there are plenty restaurants on Green Street, not many exclusively offer salads and grain bowls. Yes, Forage Kitchen is chain, but the Campustown location is the first (and only) Illinois location of the Wisconsin restaurant. Though I was suspicious the first time I read the menu, I think the salad shop does deliver on tasty, veggie-centric food.
I did enjoy the bowls on the menu, but next time, I want to try the make-your-own bowl and pick each ingredient one-by-one . I’ll definitely include the roasted chicken, five-spice cauliflower, and that delicious red vinaigrette.
Order online here or order in person at the salad shop.
503 E Green Street
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily