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The Era of the $44 Salad Has Arrived

Salad prices are surging in D.C. dining rooms and beyond

Romaine lettuce with cheese and croutons.
Bourbon Steak’s $20 Caesar salad, pictured, rises to $44 when topped with skirt steak.
Avablu Photography
Missy Frederick is the Cities Director for Eater.

Bourbon Steak Lounge is one of my favorite places in D.C. — the excellent cocktails, the terrific burgers, the proximity to the Kennedy Center, the always-amusing people-watching potential (it’s in the Four Seasons, so you’re going to end up with some interesting characters there, even if “interesting” can sometimes be a euphemism for “entitled”). I have no illusions I’m heading in there for a bargain — even if the lounge menu is ostensibly less expensive than the restaurant’s, it’s still a place offering a $38 shrimp cocktail, a drink menu without listed prices, and burgers sans fries that topped $20 before such a price became de rigeur in D.C.

But one item I noticed on the menu a few weeks ago still gave me pause in this era of escalating food prices — a $44 Caesar salad.

Bourbon Steak just ramped up its salad selection with a new endive ($22) featuring Fuji apples, Stilton cheese, spiced walnuts, and cider vinaigrette.
Jennifer Chase Photography

There are some caveats here — the salad only hits that price when topped with skirt steak, which garners a $24 surcharge (change your meat of choice to chicken, and the price drops $6). But when each of the salads available on the menu have a baseline price of $19-22 (including a mixed greens option including…vinaigrette and shaved carrots), you’re looking at a minimum of $35 for any salad featuring protein (mixed greens + salmon).

Supplemental charges for adding protein to a salad are nothing new (even at a diner you’re paying more if you throw chicken on your Greek salad, but my totals still have hovered under $20 on recent Jersey trips). Bourbon Steak’s is the priciest I’ve personally encountered, but my colleague Tierney points me in the direction of the newish Milk & Honey at the Wharf, where a Cobb with shrimp or crab tops out at $32, with lobster driving the price to $54(!). At the Capital Grille, the power dining chain with a downtown D.C. location, all entree-sized lunch and dinner salads start at $30. The steepest ($38) features citrus vinaigrette-tossed chilled Maine lobster over arugula and avocado; meanwhile, a lobster Cobb at BLT Steak downtown commands $32.

Milk & Honey’s $32 Cobb salad with shrimp and crab arrives on a bed of spinach with green goddess dressing.
Milk & Honey

It’s hard to know where to draw the line. The $21 chicken paillard served with shaved vegetables and frisee at D.C.’s Le Diplomate has never struck me as unreasonably priced (their salad nicoise, it should be noted, is $28), and similarly in NYC, the $23 chicken Cobb at NY’s Veselka doesn’t feel outrageous to me. But I found myself shying away from adding crispy chicken to a wedge salad when at NY’s Golden Diner recently, which would have added a $10 charge (and bumped the total to $27).

At a certain point, all of this starts to feel relative — I don’t end up at fast-casual salad purveyors like Sweetgreen or Chop’t all that often, but customize an item or two, and your total is probably creeping towards $20. But that’s still less than half the price of that $44 Caesar.

Would the price tag have felt worth it, given the lounge’s festive atmosphere and the fact it would have likely been a great salad? I can’t actually say. When faced with the total, I found myself gravitating away from fresh vegetables, and just ordering myself a fancy wagyu burger and the trio of seasoned fries. Delicious — though still $39, so hardly a bargain. Maybe if I’m feeling less than spendy and still want some roughage, I just need to learn to enjoy my beautifully dressed greens without a big hunk of meat thrown on top of them.