My daughter was married a few weeks ago and our family had a wonderful wedding reception for 500 guests at the iconic Muehlebach Hotel here in Kansas City.
I had been working with the wonderful and accommodating staff under the direction of Master Hôtellerie Kevin Pistilli and Executive Chef Ronnie Kotz, trying to duplicate some of my family’s special dishes that my daughter has enjoyed over the years such as Lobster Bisque en Cappuccino, Pasta alla Nanni and Porcini Encrusted Tenderloin of Beef au Poivre and when it came to me that one of her favorite dishes was the old table-side Caesar salad at Jasper’s on 75th and Wornall.
Alexandra was only 5 years old when we moved from that location but she remembered the salad very well while sitting in the dining room with us over the years. It was only fitting that we would ask chef Ronnie to prepare the famous salad on the night of her wedding.
Chef Ronnie and his staff followed through and believe me, I must have received at least 350 to 400 compliments from family, friends and customers the night of Alex & Jordan’s wedding regarding the dinner. It may go down in history as one of the finest wedding dinners in Kansas City, but the one dish everyone commented on was the table-side Caesar.
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The staff at the Muehlebach tossed the salad in front of everyone, adding the grated cheese and croutons at the right moment. Talk about delicious. Cold and crisp, the salad had the perfect ratio of anchovies and garlic.
And then it occurred to me: What happened to the table-side Caesar salad, made famous in the ’60s and ’70s, at upscale restaurants? The salad was by far the most popular at my family’s restaurant and I’ll never forget my father and his assistants preparing it table side, sometimes up to 150 orders an evening.
At Jasper’s, a large cart would appear at your table and the largest wooden bowl my father could find would be filled with garlic and anchovies along with some salt to make the perfect base for the salad.
Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil along with 10 turns of cracked pepper per person would then be added and mixed thoroughly.
And just at the right time, a server would appear at the table with a bowl of chilled and torn romaine lettuce. A two minute coddled egg would be cracked into the bowl and tossed with the torn romaine leaves. Why? Because my father said it was his way of coating the lettuce just enough so that the dressing would adhere to the leaves.
Croutons and grated cheese would be added, a final tossing would occur and the completed salad would be placed on a chilled plate and served with a chilled fork. Oh what a wonderful memory.
I was visiting with my mother the other day and asked her if she recalled the first time she and my father enjoyed the table-side Caesar and immediately she responded, “Patsy’s in NYC on our honeymoon in 1954.
“I’ll never forget it, your father was taking notes and we went back to the hotel and he said, ‘Jo, we’re going to put this on the menu when we expand and add more tables.’ ”
The rest is history.
I sure do miss this wonderful salad preparation at restaurants. I’m not talking about the version from a jar and in every salad bar in America. I’m talking about the classic table-side version.
If you have had a table-side Caesar Salad lately, drop me a note because I’d sure like to visit that restaurant.
As always, any suggestions for classic, old time restaurant fair, my email is email@example.com.
Jasper Mirabile’s Classic Caesar Salad
1 garlic clove, crushed
Kosher salt to taste
Juice from half a lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 head of romaine, outer leaves removed
1 large egg coddled
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1 cup croutons
Place garlic, lemon and salt in a wooden bowl and mash. Add anchovies and Worcestershire. Continue to mash into a puree. Add vinegar and mix. Drizzle in olive oil until dressing becomes thick, all the time mixing. Add cracked pepper. Tear romaine leaves and pat dry. Place in large bowl and toss with a coddled egg followed by the dressing. Add grated cheese and croutons along with more cracked pepper and serve on a chilled salad plate with a chilled fork. Serves 2
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.