A SALAD BY ANY OTHER NAME
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's almost a sacrilege to live on this island and not care one wit about golf. In fact, one of the local jokes is "St. Simons is a nice little drinking island with a golfing problem." So, it was no surprise that John was looking over my shoulder to catch the suspenseful final round of the International Golf Tournament.
I was eating my salad, enjoying the ambiance, just wondering what I'd write about this week. Without realizing it, I asked out loud:
"Your Caesar's salad."
"What about my Caesar's salad?
"You asked what you should write about," John said, still looking at the screen, polite to me but not to be distracted.
"Oh, yes," and realized I had daydreamed aloud.
At first, I thought I'd laugh at his efforts to stifle me, but then I thought, why not?
The first Caesar's salad I ever had was prepared by Lambrose, the maitre d' at Rolling Hills Country Club, outside Pittsburgh. He was a class act; a slender fellow with black pompadour and Grecian features. He wore a tuxedo that fit so perfectly it must have been made to order. The white shirt was crisp and the black satin bow tie fashioned perfectly. (The only other suggestion of elegance in this familiar 19th hole restaurant was, of course, spikes had to be left in the locker room.)
I had heard of Caesar's salad but never wanted to try one -- raw eggs and anchovies? Oh, no, no, no. But Lambrose allayed my fears and suggested I try. How could I resist? (Refer to aforementioned black pompadour, well fitted tuxedo, John watching golf on television, you get it....).
An elegant setup was wheeled to the table with ingredients and implements arranged in precisely the order needed to create a Caesar's salad as Caesar, himself tossed it.
The chef who tossed the first Caesar's salad is neither Julius nor Agustus. He is not Sid Caesar, nor the one heading Little Caesar's Pizza. He's not Batman's Joker, Cesar Romero and, I've just discovered, his name isn't even Caesar. According to all research on this chef, I can only tell you for sure his name is Sr. Cardini -- known in most references as Caesar Cardini creator of the salad. This was authenticated by Julia Child who went to Caesar's place as a child. I find it more plausible that brother Alex Cardini created it and served it in the hotel named for his brother.
There is no confusion about when it was created: July 4, 1924. It was during Prohibition, when American temperance reformers had gotten all sales of alcohol outlawed. Caesar's Place was in Tijuana, Mexico, a favorite drinking party town for the San Diego social set and Hollywood celebrities. Film stars Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are mentioned in every story I've read about red hot night life in Tijuana. Gambling casinos were a draw.
The night they invented the Caesar's was a big holiday in a dry country. Whether the Cardini brothers were unaware of our Fourth of July or just not prepared, they ran out of food and had to improvise. There was plenty of Romaine lettuce on hand, but Americans were not salad people then. The enterprising young man decided they might go for table preparation.
He was right. This instant taste delight was made up of toasted French bread croutons, coddled eggs, Romaine lettuce, garlic-flavored olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and freshly ground Parmesan cheese. There is a dispute about anchovies. In one interview I read, the chef said mashed anchovies were spread on croutons. Family history suggests the anchovy flavor came from the Worcestershire sauce.
As Lambrose put the initial ingredients in a large wooden bowl, pressing them together with a fork until the anchovies are broken up, he deftly reached for the olive oil and from a height, poured just the right amount; the juice of limes was added but he'd squeeze that from cloth covered fruit to contain the pits. A little bit of Worcestershire sauce, a couple of coddled eggs, dash of pepper sauce and it was ready to mix together before tossing in the lettuce leaves.
By hand, the salad was scooped and folded until every leaf was coated evenly and glistening. He tossed in croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese over the top. He held an anchovy in front of me with a teasing gesture before placing it gingerly atop the bowl. He waved the salad station away by snapping the small white linen towel toward the busboy, bowed ceremoniously to us and said: Bon appetite.
C'est si bon, Lambrose, c'est si bon.
He gave me the recipe at another time. It's close to all those listed as "original." Do I make a Caesar's salad? Oh, no. I make reservations.