Welcome to Actually, a safe space for us to share our deeply held but likely unpopular opinions about food and drinks.
I always thought that my dad’s affinity for a classic wedge salad—iceberg, tomatoes, bacon, blue cheese dressing—was an old man thing, like continuing to buy the same ill-fitting GAP jeans for two decades, or repeating stale, vaguely inappropriate jokes at family get-togethers. I imagine that, as men age, there’s a sort of gravitational pull toward the comfort provided by blandness and reliability. Fortunately, I’ve been able to talk my dad into new pants, but he still insists on ordering a wedge every time we visit a steakhouse. Fine, I say. Have your weird hunk of iceberg lettuce. You’ve given me life and are paying for this dinner and I will allow you to enjoy this objectively dumb appetizer without yucking your yum.
And then a couple of years ago, I started working for a digital food publication with a handful of 30-somethings whose culinary aesthetics I blindly trusted and, for the most part, adopted as my own. They opened my eyes to the unctuous tang of chicken liver mousse and the delightfully unholy combination of potato chips and caviar. They became my Northern Star of taste. So imagine my shock and horror when I learned they almost unanimously cosign the Wedge. (This is the part of the article where the Wedge gets a capital W like the cartoon villain it has become in my life.)
When I asked one of my friends what he loves about this “salad,” he responded, “Creamy, bacon, iceberg.” Creamy? Fine, good. Bacon? Yes, always. But Iceberg? As a selling point? Surely not.
Let me refer you to a list of the worst lettuces:
I don’t have to explain to you why frisée is bad, but here’s a reminder just in case: it’s an abrasive tumbleweed. The only reason it punches slightly above iceberg is because it has some semblance of flavor, despite being bitter and hard to swallow like the opinions of our current president.
Iceberg, on the other hand, tastes like solidified water—which, yes, is ice. Its fault lies in its name! It’s filler lettuce with virtually no nutritional value. The iceberg supporters out there like to defend its texture, which they claim makes the crispest salad and adds desirable crunch to sandwiches. To that I say, HELLO ROMAINE, and have you tried adding chips to your hoagie? All of the crunch, none of the sog.
In the context of a salad, iceberg is merely a vessel for other food items, rendering it a waste of space and chewing energy. It can’t hold a candle to arugula or kale, which bring spiciness and earthiness to the proverbial (and literal) table. They often even get their names featured on the menu: Kale Caesar Salad. Arugula with Tomatoes and Mozzarella. Have you ever seen an “Iceberg Salad” offered at a restaurant? No, and that’s because it’s lazy lettuce.
And then to serve it on a plate in wedge form?! Like, here’s this subpar crunchy boi and also we’re not even going to cut it for you, but have a fork and a STEAK KNIFE. Please, I beg of you, do not give me a steak knife for my salad unless there’s an actual steak hiding somewhere in there. If I’m paying you $15 for a salad (steakhouse prices), I expect it to arrive at the table ready to eat. This tweet made me feel seen:
To add insult to injury, this vegetal doorstop is served on a too-small plate with its accoutrements haphazardly flopped over the top, which means that in the process of cutting and then mixing everything together, some of it will inevitably wind up on the table. (I offered this as a counterargument to my aforementioned friend’s love of the Wedge, and he accused me of “inexperience.” He also implored me not to “APEROL SPRITZ THE WEDGE SALAD” in all caps.)
Another friend—I guess I have to reexamine my relationships—defended the Wedge as “a slice of cake, except it’s vegetables. Crispy iceberg, smoky thick-cut bacon, creamy blue cheese dressing cake.”
I just gagged a little typing the words “blue cheese dressing cake.” B*ue ch*ese is perhaps the least popular of its solidified dairy brethren, on account of its toe-jammy qualities. It is, in my mind, only acceptable as a dip to accompany buffalo chicken wings, because its foot funkiness is mollified by the spice and tang of the good good buff sauce. Not so when squirted over iceberg, which I’ve already explained tastes like refrigerator air.
In the spirit of knowing thine enemy, I turned to the Internet to find out how this dish has managed to evade extinction despite its many shortcomings. All I can say is…well, well, well. According to The Smithsonian, iceberg lettuce began to lose market share around 1950, and became so unpopular by 1995 that the nation’s largest lettuce supplier (Tanimura and Antle) had to launch a marketing campaign to sway people into purchasing their big, flavorless crisphead. This campaign included “planting wedge salad recipes around the food media world” to encourage chefs to include it on their menus.
Yes, that’s right: The Wedge! Was! Planted! That fact doesn’t make the Wedge taste any better, but its ubiquity certainly makes more sense to me. Thanks a lot, Corporate America. As with many of life’s injustices, I can blame this one on The Man. Down with The Man. Down with the Wedge.