Calling a salad a salad

June 4, 2010

I don’t know who decided it was a good idea to dump a big pile of arugula on top of a pizza (or some ravioli, or what-have-you), but obviously a lot of people got wind of this idea and were similarly charmed by it. I’m not so sure I agree, but the thing is, the people who make the arugula pizzas are clever people, and they also top those pizzas with other things I cannot resist, so then I order that pizza in spite of its precarious green crown. And sometimes it works out just fine, and the rest of the time it tastes pretty good but is extremely awkward to eat.

The thing about the Tavern in the Square is that their Central Square location is just down the street from the Cambridge Family YMCA, in whose charming little theater the Longwood Players presented City of Angels this spring. So on closing day, when we had a matinee and an evening show with just a couple of hours in between, the Tavern was a natural choice for dinner. It’s a cozy, casual place, or it would be, except that a lot of the tables in the front are broken up by big posts running from floor to ceiling. Presumably these are structurally necessary, but they seem to result in isolating you from the conversation of all your dining companions except the one across from you, who is one of the leads and also feeling a bit under the weather, so he’s trying to rest up for the evening performance by not speaking to anyone, which as the assistant music director you totally support, but it makes for a sad and lonely dinner.

And then you order the arugula pizza (Melted leeks! Goat cheese!) and you can’t decide whether to eat the arugula first with a fork, followed by the rest of the pizza with your hands, or eat the whole thing with a fork, or just go for broke and eat the whole slice with your hands. You decide on the last option, because you are lazy and hungry, and because the pizza minus the arugula is frankly not that interesting. And, well, it’s not pretty. Well, the pizza itself is pretty, drizzled with a dark, shiny balsamic glaze, but you eating the pizza is something else entirely. The arugula doesn’t stay put — it falls all over the plate, and you can’t seem to bite it off elegantly, and it’s actually kind of hard to swallow because it’s fairly dry, being only drizzled and not actually dressed. And you almost wish you’d ordered a basic Margherita, like a normal person.

It seems like it’s a better approach to just call the arugula a salad, mounded in the middle of the pizza and nicely dressed, with another veggie or two mixed in. That’s what you get on the Farm Fresh pie at Stone Hearth Pizza, a local chain that features organic, locally sourced ingredients. Last night I ordered one of these, and because the salad was clearly a salad (arugula, thinly sliced red onion, and a strip of prosciutto, tossed in a light vinaigrette), it seemed right to eat it first, besides which I was planning on saving a couple of slices for Jacob and didn’t figure the greens would keep very well. The rest of the pizza was teeming with other delicious ingredients — cubed Yukon Gold potatoes, red and yellow peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, green and Kalamata olives, and fresh mozzarella — which made it a little messy to eat, but oh, was it ever delicious. I didn’t notice until inhaling the fourth slice in my car, just before driving home from Rent, that there was no cheese except for the mozzarella blobs, which was fine because there was also no tomato sauce, just the pile of tasty, tasty vegetables. I would order that pizza again right now. And tomorrow, too.

I did save the last two slices for Jacob, who was hungry from a long day of rehearsals. It was very hard. But I did it.

I hear there is also an arugula pizza (the “Spruce”) at the Dogwood Cafe, which holds a special place in my heart even though I no longer live within walking distance. I think I may need to sample their version as well, strictly in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you understand. Also they have a drink called the Ruby Red Saint (St. Germain, pear vodka, grapefruit juice) that I’m pretty sure I need to try. Fortunately I’m doing a show at the Footlight Club in the fall, so I’ll be in the neighborhood often enough to continue pairing theater with arugula pizza. If I can wait that long.



  1. I knew you had “food critic” in you. This one is very you, of course, because the pizza/salad tastings are woven into your musical schedule. More importantly, though, it makes me want to read more of your stuff to help me decide where to eat this weekend. Although I might skip the arugula. (Bernadette Peters et al gave that vegetable a rather bad name.)

  2. You are crazy- arugula is delicious on ANYTHING. Much like parmesan.

  3. Perhaps I should clarify my emotions towards arugula: it is indeed delicious, but it is awkward to eat in situations of ambiguous fork necessity.

    Next time you visit, I’m making you arugula-parmesan ice cream sundaes.

  4. I’ll look forward to that!

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