There are few dishes with enough of a cult following to have their own Facebook page. But in Phoenix, there’s more than enough love for one salad to garner not only that honor, but also the unofficial moniker of Arizona’s “state salad.”
We’re talking about the Stetson Chopped Salad or, as some of you might know it, The Original Chopped Salad. No matter what you call it, this salad combines chopped arugula, pearl couscous, dried sweet corn, pepitas, dried currants, Asiago cheese, marinated tomatoes and buttermilk herb dressing.
At Cowboy Ciao, the Old Town Scottsdale restaurant that closed abruptly this week, the dish was available with your choice of salmon, chicken or avocado. But purists will say the only way to eat it is with pretty pink slices of smoked salmon on the side.
What is the Stetson Chopped Salad?
The salad’s origins go back at least 20 years, when the dish first appeared on the menu at Cowboy Ciao. At the time, chef Bernie Kantak was Cowboy Ciao’s executive chef. He said the salad was invented when Cowboy Ciao owner Peter Kasperski asked him to create a new chopped salad for the menu.
“He stops, looks at me and says, ‘Bernie, we need a new chopped salad,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ ” Kantak told The Republic.
There was, however, already a chopped salad on the Cowboy Ciao menu — one Kantak says had been borrowed from the menu at Steven, a Scottsdale restaurant open during the 1980s. At one time, Kasperski was the restaurant’s manager.
Kantak modeled his new salad off the one from Steven, which used slightly different ingredients including prosciutto and lentils. He drew additional inspiration from Cowboy Ciao’s seasonal soup at the time, a fennel bisque garnished with freeze-dried corn and smoked salmon.
“I just kind of liked the herbaceous-ness of the fennel, corn and salmon and then I thought, ‘how could I incorporate that into a salad?’ ” Kantak recalled.
Thus the Stetson Chopped Salad was born.
Though Cowboy Ciao has shuttered, its most famous dish will undoubtedly live on at a handful of Valley restaurants, including Kantak’s two spots.
Here are five places where you can still get your Stetson Chopped Salad fix:
Cowboy Ciao at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
According to airport officials, there are no plans to close the Cowboy Ciao branch at Sky Harbor, inside Terminal 4. With the Scottsdale location gone, this is the only place still serving the dish under the name “Stetson Chopped.”
Details: $14.25. Terminal 4, near Gate B22, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Citizen Public House
Kantak served as executive chef at Cowboy Ciao for more than a decade before heading out on his own in 2009 to open Citizen Public House. You can find a version of the Cowboy Ciao salad on the menu under the name The Original Chopped Salad.
In 2013, Kantak opened a second restaurant, The Gladly, this time in the Biltmore neighborhood of Phoenix. Naturally, the chef brought the salad with him, again under the name The Original Chopped Salad.
Details: $14. 2201 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix. 602-759-8132, thegladly.com.
New Wave Market
Former Cowboy Ciao pastry chef Country Velador and her husband, Sergio, wasted no time adding the “original” Stetson Chopped Salad to the menu of New Wave Market, their sandwich shop. New Wave is on the same block as the Cowboy Ciao restaurant space.
We are so sad by the closing of our sister restaurants Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz. Please come by New Wave to get your…
Wildflower Bread Company
While the Chopped Salad here is not exactly the same as either the Stetson Chopped or The Original Chopped salads, it’s a very similar dish available at the local chain’s restaurants throughout metro Phoenix and northern Arizona. Like the other salads, the Wildflower Chopped Salad combines arugula, pearl couscous, dried corn and choice of salmon or chicken. But it features red peppers rather than marinated tomatoes, dried cranberries instead of dried currants, sunflower seeds in place of pepitas and feta cheese, not Asiago. It’s served with a pesto vinaigrette.