There’s an unidentified quote that goes, “No good story ever started with someone eating a salad.” Welp—you were wrong, Anonymous.
Us Wilmingtonians love our brew pubs. We love our kitchen-less dive bars where we can pull up a pizza and shot of Jamo. We love our fried things, our cheesy things, and our BBQ things. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get down with some damn good greens.
There are a handful of deli-esque café-style establishments that offer tasty salads. But before Chopt, there were no restaurants who put a sole emphasis on nutritious local produce, meats and cheeses, all mixed into a bountiful bowl that will make anyone’s body say, “Hell-to-the-yes, please!”
There’s no denying it: Chopt is a chain (a word that locals aren’t exactly fond of). But give it just one chance to see what all the healthy hype is about. Because I’m not allowed to officially review new restaurants until they’ve had an appropriate amount of time on the market, I popped into Chopt off-duty just after opening day. I was so impressed with the service, freshness and quality of food, not to mention the pristine dining environment, I knew it would be a slam dunk.
Since I had previously eaten in and could already speak highly of the spacious, modestly designed interior and superior counter service, I tested the takeout. My call-in order of four large salads was to take 20 minutes, but they came out in 15. Chopt’s menu is broken down into several sections: destination (a focus on seasonal and regional ingredients), grains, lights, bolds, bowls, etc. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate. And there is a “customer craft” section, too, for diners who want to design their own. All of the dressings are made fresh in-house, so, really, there’s no going wrong from bottom to top.
I caught Chopt on the last day of their summer menu and took full advantage of the “Heirloom Caprese Plate” with local peaches, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh Brooklyn mozzarella. When ordering (in person or on the phone), they ask diners if they want their dressing mixed in or on the side. One advantage of being in person: keeping an eye on how lightly or generously the greens get saturated. To each his own on that one. The caprese seemed like a plate that required more of a drizzle rather than full-on tossing, so I asked for the dressing on the side. The basil-mint vinaigrette was fresh and floral, but as I suspected, the peaches were way past season and didn’t have the sweet, juicy bite of a summer stone fruit. The heirlooms were colorful baby tomatoes that, although heirloom-ish, were the kind found year-round in the grocery store.
I appreciate Chopt’s commitment to drawing out the season as long as possible, but if an ingredient is no longer at its peak, we won’t hold it against them to swap in something better. As far as the concept of dissecting a traditional caprese salad and putting it back together in an artisitc, summery way: well played.
Next up was the “California Steakhouse” with grass-fed steak, spicy peppers, charred red onion, and chimichurri ranch. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cold thinly sliced steak, as it didn’t have the same thick, meaty consistency I crave in beef. The herby dressing and crunchy chopped lettuce mixture with the smoky onions, however, was definitely delicious.
I’m a falafel enthusiast so I was looking forward to trying Chopt’s fritters. Unfortunately, when I ordered the “Mediterranean Falafel Bowl,” they were out. Seeing as it was 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I took it as a sign of popularity. I swapped in grilled chicken for the chickpea patties and was super content. The quinoa cauliflower rice added a tender, chewy bite that made all the difference in the creativity of the overall dish. The kale, broccoli leaf and purple cabbage tangled with the tart Greek yogurt tzatziki, and it was addictive. I may have even transferred the leftovers to my breakfast plate this morning. Kale yeah.
I was tempted by the noodle bowls, but the ingredients in the “Spicy Santorini Bowl,” with nutty lemon tahini, had me at “tahini.” The spicy Greek chicken was shredded and flavorful—whereas the grilled chicken I subbed into the falafel bowl was average, if not a bit under-seasoned, white meat. The blend of grains—quinoa, millet and lentils—perfectly balanced the morsels of salty feta.
It came with a lemon wedge (a chance to take the flavors to the next level). Note to novices: If a chef puts a lemon on your plate, give it a squeeze to get the full experience intended.
I had my fingers crossed for the “Ginger Tumeric Tonic Iced Tea” I had sampled on my first visit, but the selection was more limited upon my return. With the fact that upon entering, though, I was greeted by two containers of “spa water” with mint, cucumbers and citrus, that the freshly brewed tea selection was lackluster definitely didn’t heighten my concern. Even the bottled beverages in the cold case were fun and unique.
So, Wilmington, it’s time to do a body good. Welcome, Chopt. The Forum’s newest greenery, most definitely, has not been “Chopped.”