Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery — salad is not exactly an easy thing to reinvent. You can pile on more ingredients, add some fancy greens, make your own dressing, but in the end, a salad is a salad is a salad.
This makes Bread Zeppelin, a chain wannabe with an inaugural branch in Irving, all the more clever. It has taken your basic food category of salad and placed it inside an edible wrapper that’s both unpredictable and unexpectedly good: a hollowed-out baguette. It’s like an upgrade of a wrap sandwich, with bread replacing the tortilla. If you like crisp, hot French bread with your salad, this is your place.
The concept is not totally original. In 2004, Jack in the Box introduced a similar line of “Pannido” sandwiches, with deli meats rolled inside long, crunchy baguettes. Though popular, they were discontinued a few years later.
Bread Zeppelin founders Troy Charhon and Andrew Schoellkopf meanwhile observed the rising fortunes of salad in their former jobs at Eatzi’s and Central Market. Chopped meal-size salads have become hot, with restaurants such as Snappy Salads and salad bar chain Salata sprouting branches across Dallas-Fort Worth. And healthy dining is a major trend, with an influx of chains such as Seasons 52 and LYFE Kitchen.
Bread Zeppelin’s feat is that it gives salads a way to go portable. Aside from wraps, it’s impossible to eat a salad on the go. And Charhon and Schoellkopf weren’t fans of the wrap’s tendency to turn gummy and disintegrate when it got saturated with liquid.
The appeal of their sandwiches is not just that they avoid a mess. There’s something satisfying about the bright flavors of a salad set against the toasty crunch of a freshly baked baguette. Part of Bread Zeppelin’s charm is that the bread is baked to order. Service is Chipotle-style. Once you place your order, the dough goes into a fiery conveyor oven, where it bakes while your salad is prepared. By the time your ingredients have been chopped and dressed, the roll emerges from the oven, puffy and golden.
Using tongs, a staffer pulls out the fluffy center of the bun, to be used for croutons, and stuffs it with your salad of choice. Like at any salad chain, you can compose your own combo at Bread Zeppelin from a wide selection of options: two dozen vegetables such as mushrooms, roasted red peppers and fried onions; six lettuce mixes including the au courant kale; plus beans, nuts, fruit, cheese, egg, meats and tofu. Prices start at $4.99 for a baguette with four ingredients, and can go up to $9.99 depending on your choice and quantity of ingredients.
There’s a slate of the restaurant’s own inventions, for those who’d rather choose a combination already composed, in different culinary themes. One of the best was the Shanghai, an Asian-flavored salad that was wonderfully refreshing, with red-leaf lettuce, spinach, toasted almonds, Mandarin oranges and a choice of chicken or tofu, tossed in a carrot-ginger-lime dressing.
The Lone Star was another winner, with grilled flank steak, avocado, tomato, fried onion, jalapeño and crunchy iceberg lettuce, tossed in a creamy wasabi dressing. The Atlantis was like a hand-held Greek salad with chopped cucumber, kalamata olives and feta cheese in an oregano-laced dressing.
Two Caesars included a classic and a spicy Tejano with Romaine, jalapeño, tortilla chips and cotija cheese with your choice of chicken or medium-rare steak medallions. A staffer tossed the ingredients down on a white board and used a curved knife to seesaw back and forth until everything was broken into bite-size pieces. Into the hot roll it went; that got wrapped in white paper, like a submarine sandwich.
Some of the most appealing zeppelins contained fruit and nuts, such as the Kale-ifornia with pumpkin seeds and the Washington State with walnuts. The menu also includes a couple of daily soups and cookies for dessert. And of course you can get your salad without the baguette, served in a large plastic bowl ($6.99). But where’s the fun in that? The theme here is zeppelin, and that’s the way to go.