A Veggie Tale

Salads don't necessarily make you healthy ... or happy

"Have you lost weight?"

Those four, magical little words tripped out of my friend Bizcazh.com's mouth one night at a bar, as I was guzzling Bass Ale and attempting to throw pointy darts at the board, not people.

"Why, yes, I think I have," I replied. I studied my reflection in the mirror - same "healthy" proportion of roundness in my cheeks, same curve to my upper thighs - but strangely, that well-earned little pot belly had somehow gotten smaller. I sucked in my stomach a bit. There! I looked positively tiny! Visions of bikini summers and "sexy parties" (for you Family Guy fans) filled my head. Mall shopping could be fun again! Maybe those little dimples in my butt would finally go away!

Clearly, I was onto something. You see, during those weeks of travel in corporate land, and my harrowing death duel with Rizzo the Rat, I had actually lost my appetite. I went to bed hungry, not clutching a bag of Chick-Fil-A or the wrapper from an extra taco. I woke up and went to work, instead of meandering over to Einstein's for a greasy, bacon spinach panini - which by the way is repugnant, although I continue to order it out of hope.

Nope, instead of eating my solid four meals a day (with a healthy selection of imported beers to wash it all down), I had gone down to two, sometimes one. And gosh-darn it if I wasn't reaping the rewards.

Later that night, on the long drive home over the bridge, I started plotting. I hadn't intended to lose weight, but now that I had, maybe I could keep it up. It would be an experiment; yes, a grand experiment. A week of salads. Surely, if anyone could do it, it would be me.

My first test came at Acropolis, a tasty Greek joint in Ybor, where previously I had indulged in a spanakopita so heavy that it took me two rounds to polish it off. This time, I was oh so good. After being shunted from seat to seat by the, eh - sucky waiters, I ordered an Acropolis salad. With strips of gyro meat, I was bound not to feel deprived.

When the salad finally arrived, I shook my head in disbelief. "She made it bigger than normal," my waiter informed me, plunking down a plate laden with 15 separate food items. It wasn't a salad so much as a salad bar - and … oohooh … did it look good.

Sure, there was lettuce, but there was also four rounds of fluffy, warm pita bread, sloppy-cut strips of red peppers, seductive kalamata olives with pits, slices of fresh cucumbers, chunks of firm tomatoes, red onions slivers, pepperoncinis, enormous, floating rafts of feta cheese that had been doused with Mediterranean spices, and lovely, crispy-curly threads of gyro meat, possibly sliced first from a slab that had formed a crust from the heat. In short, fantastic - and no where close to being diet-like, especially when you factored in the rosemary feta yogurt sauce served with a side of bread.

It wasn't until I chunked my way through the top layer of goodness that I realized that, like all Tampa Bay Greek salads, mine included a scoop of potato salad hidden under the rafters. Now, I'm not a mayo fan, but the tangy, lemony, soft potato cubes bore no hint of the noxious substance. The salad was, in a word, perfect, and I ate its remainders for the next two meals.

Later that week, I made up for my indiscretion with a packaged Caesar salad from Alessi's. I love Alessi's - especially that creamy, last-meal-worthy macaroni and cheese, which has got to be slathered in at least 18 kinds of butter and cheese to taste as good as it does.

Alessi's does many things right, but there was one puzzling inconsistency: no Caesar dressing available. Turning up my nose at Heinz Italian, I ate my salad plain. It would have been an über-healthy meal - if I hadn't ordered a small container of mac and cheese.

My final attempt at eating healthy came at MacDinton's, an Irish pub close to work that serves decent bar food - and Bass Ale. It had been a long day, so I turned to the waitress for advice. The pear salad, she advised, with an order of chicken. Too tired to really fight, I agreed to a plate of lettuce, packaged raspberry vinaigrette reeking of high fructose corn syrup, pears straight from a can, chicken so dry that its striations could be seen from outer space, and crumbles of cheese so mediocre I can't even remember their origin. Feta? Blue? Blah.

These salad days were not what I had in mind. I may have been a tiny bit thinner, but I was a whole lot more unhappy.

Bacon double-cheeseburgers, here I come.

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