Plato Royale: The Cobb at Giardino Gourmet Salads Vs. Salad Creations

Cue the workforce lunch crowd.  All together now... "Hallelujah!" 

Miami has finally gotten its fair share of salad mixing chains, transforming noon-time question marks into exclamation points.  For this installment of Plato Royale, we thought we'd take on interpretations of the Cobb salad from a pair of major franchise players in town.

Giardino's Country Cobb ($6.50/Piccolo, $8.75/Basta and $11/Grande) - Romaine greens, plum tomatoes, egg, bacon, radish, chicken and turkey chunks, with country garlic dressing and herb parmesan croutons

Pros:  The Country Cobb is a delicate compilation featuring well-balanced toppings. The Romaine is at its freshest and snaps like a Vlasic, keeping its crunch where the traditional iceberg might get limp.  Quartered radishes add a delightfully bitter crunch next to the hard-boiled egg, in larger pieces than the traditional crumble.  The dressing is creamy and tangy with a hint of black pepper, nicely cut by acid from the tomato. Croutons are made fresh on-site and are added thoughtfully at the very end, so they don't get soggy when the dressing is mixed in. 

Cons: The day I sampled the salad, Giardino Downtown had not received its turkey delivery, so I substituted cubed ham to go along with the chicken (in an attempt to stick to how it's described on the menu.)  Next time I may get the dressing on the side and will see if they'll substitute one of the proteins for some cucumber and red onion.  It's a big bummer that avocado, a traditional Cobb favorite, is not included; however, it's a reasonable $0.60 if you would like to add it.  If I had one more wish, it would be that bacon bits get the same attention paid to other toppings. They were not fresh or crispy, and therefore not worth it.

In Case You Were Wondering: The look and feel of the place is country French, in soothing sage green with wood-paneled cabinets painted ivory like what you'd expect to find in a modern farmhouse kitchen. Service is very prompt and capable, well-staffed for the lunch rush if you need to get in and out in a jiffy.  In addition to custom-tossed salads with a choice of six kinds of lettuces and 70 toppings (including 12 different house-made croutons!), you'll find a refrigerator case of pre-prepped salads like "Tropical Chicken" and "Lemon-Dill Seafood," as well as fancy-looking desserts and pastries. Giardino is franchised, and consumers can expect consistency at each store.  Downtown is only open weekdays (Mon-Fri 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.) and features indoor/outdoor seating for approximately 30.

Salad Creations Florida Sunshine Cobb ($6.99/Jr. and $8.99/Full) - Iceberg lettuce, grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg, black olives, tomatoes, carrots, croutons, gorgonzola cheese and bacon bits 

Pros: The portions in the junior and full are generous, and tons of toppings are packed in. "featured salads." They don't have pre-determined dressings here, so I chose from among 18 and went with a little regular ranch with a splash of balsamic vinegar (not the vinaigrette...)  The ingredients are matched well and come chopped all together to order with the lettuce, a Salad Creations signature.

Cons: The Cobb at Salad Creations is very generic. Though there's an abundance of ingredients, they don't really pop or have much flavor on their own. You can tell the croutons come from a package. Again, there's no avocado included, and this time it's a whopping $1.50 if you would like it added (a half of a Hass.)  With the dressing mixed-in, the iceberg lettuce became a little wilted.

In Case You Were Wondering: If you create your own salad, you'll have four lettuces and 36 toppings from which to choose. The midtown store has indoor/outdoor seating for about 20 and is open seven days a week, Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., and Sat and Sun until 7 p.m.  Desserts are offered Subway-style with cookies and brownies in a plastic case atop the counter. Something tells me you also won't be shelling out 25 buckaroos for the oh-so questionable salad chopper to replicate the Salad Creation experience at home! Service lacks a little polish and is sometimes under-staffed at this store.

The Verdict: The Florida Sunshine Cobb at Salad Creations is a decent garden variety; However, we're sold on our home-grown gourmet franchise.  The deal breaker?  Why go ordinary when you can have extraordinary at the same price or even less?  With a superior salad and nice touches like handled shopping bags made of 100 percent recycled paper (instead of its opponent's plastic,) the refined yet affordable Giardino and its Country Cobb take the trowel!

Giardino Gourmet Salads Downtown (and six other Miami-Dade locations.)
169 East Flagler Street
Miami, FL 33131
(305) 358-0167

Salad Creations (and several other locations locally and nationwide)
2001 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 576-5333