I’ll be honest with you; I like chain restaurants.
Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the ideal of a “mom and pop” small business and claim it has some kind of inherent superiority in terms of service or preparation, but I’ve eaten at enough local dives in my day to know that there are plenty of “hometown favorites” which are overpriced and staffed by rather surely individuals. By the same token, I’ve eaten at enough chains — and worked at one, actually — to know that quality, service, and damn good food doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the amount of locations a brand has to offer.
Such can probably be said for UNO Chicago Grill.
I’ve been eating at UNO Chicago Grill for as long as I can remember, and I’ve had nothing but good memories and experiences at the namesake chain of the famous landmark for Deep Dish. Ironically, I’ve never actually had their Deep Dish pizzas, but I have always enjoyed their fantastic thin crust pies, including the BBQ Chicken. Going to UNO’s was a yearly event for my family on Christmas Eve when I was younger, as we’d swing by Union Station in Washington D.C. before a showing of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol at Ford theatre. I would always get the BBQ Chicken Pizza, and I would always finish it. And I would never, ever, let my dad steal a slice.
Since those days I’ve branched out a little when it comes to ordering, but my experiences at UNO’s have remained nothing but positive. Whether it’s been reconnecting with old high school friend’s or meeting my parent’s for dinner after flying back from Utah, on each occasion I’ve been to UNO’s these has been reason to celebrate. And, unlike a recent trip to a high-end Italian “original” in downtown Ellicott City, my meals have always been excellent at UNO’s.
Most recently I decided to go to UNO’s and try out their Chopped Power Salad. It might be a little trite to be writing about a salad given the perennial January theme of eating healthy, but after stopping over from the YMCA after a run, I was basking in that whole healthy aura of wanting something wholesome, filling, delicious, and you know the drill. The salad sounded like just the ticket:
Grilled chicken, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, feta, red grapes, goji berries, raisins, soy nuts, almonds, pepitas, Ocean Spray® Dried Cranberries, fat free vinaigrette
That’s quite the garden of stuff. I have no idea what a goji berry is (it sounds like something from Yoshi’s story) and I’m still not exactly sure if I identified the berries within the salad, but after arriving on my table not five minutes after placing my order, I was stunned at the fantastic colors and beautiful presentation of what can only be described, in the immortal words of Elaine Benes, as a “big salad.”
It wasn’t just one of the most filling and most aesthetically pleasing salads I have ever been served, it was also one of the most balanced and complete in tastes and textures. There’s a lightness and freshness from the spinach, plenty of crunch and nutty flavor from the almonds, soy nuts, and pepitas, and just the right balance of sweet and tart provided by the various fruits. To round it all out, the Feta — slightly bitter and salty, with a crumbly texture that finds its way into every corner of the salad — and the Chicken bring a completeness which left me satiated far before finishing the entire salad. I can’t emphasize how much I enjoyed the wide-ranging fruits and vegetables used in this salad. There are classic pairings like carrots and raisins that work in perfect unison with the cranberries and tomatoes, while the juicy, plump chicken breast exuded a mild grilled flavor that’s didn’t overwhelm the salad. The best part was the sheer abundance of grilled chicken chunks, which seemed to appear beneath every turn of the fork into the salad. If there’s one flaw in the salad it’s that the vinaigrette is a bit dull. But with the sheer plethora of ingredients and sweeteners within the salad, it’s an afterthought dressing that can afford to be an afterthought.
I suppose I could say something snarky about how the 51 grams of sugar in the salad isn’t really healthy, but I’m not buying that notion. Given the sheer abundance of vegetables and fruits, you’re basically covering a days worth of produce eating, while the balance of protein and heart-healthy fats give truth in advertising to the salad’s namesake. At $11.99 it’s a complete meal, and another winning entre delivered by a staff in timely fashion and in a professional, courteous manner.