The Wedge Salad Comeback Is Long Overdue

Dining trends come and go, but every now and then a dish with staying power emerges. Foods like beef Wellington and southern fried chicken wow generation after generation. They may fade into the background for a while, temporarily eclipsed by the next big thing, but they're never quite forgotten. The wedge salad falls into this category. For me, it brings back fond memories of dining out with my grandparents — feeling grown-up as the only kid at the table, surrounded by adults sipping martinis and tucking into baked stuffed lobster. It's a delightfully uncomplicated combination of iceberg lettuce, crisp bacon, and (sometimes) tomatoes drenched in creamy blue cheese dressing. But this American classic has all but disappeared from most 21st-century menus outside of your standard steakhouse. Today, we declare enough is enough. It's time for the mighty wedge salad to make a bold comeback.

Before we move forward, let's take a look back to where it all began. Stories of the wedge salad's genesis tend to agree on one point: It reigned as a star on mid-century menus and a cultural symbol of a simple yet sophisticated era, right alongside a rare T-bone steak and an extra-dry martini. Those were the days, my friend. So why did they end?

How the wedge got edged out

The reason for the decline of the wedge salad is anyone's guess, but I would argue it was a convergence of events. In the 1960s, when the wedge salad in all its blue-cheese-and-bacony goodness was at the height of its popularity, a cultural shift was percolating. Perhaps driven by a pursuit of the waif-like silhouettes of the era's top models — think Twiggy and Penelope Tree — Americans began reevaluating their food choices. At around the same time, weight loss evangelical Jean Nidetch founded Weight Watchers. And then the U.S. government declared a war on dietary fats urging consumers to restrict their intake of fat-forward foods, such as blue cheese and bacon, the wedge salad's crowning jewels. Right or wrong, dietary fat got a bad rap. Complex carbohydrates, such as unadulterated veggies and whole grains, became the new "it" food. 

By the 1980s, the concept of nouvelle cuisine began making inroads on the American fine-dining landscape. Intrigued by the concept of food as art, chefs embraced plating as a means of culinary expression. Deliciously rich sauces and dressings got the boot in favor of lighter, brighter vinaigrettes drizzled over elegantly arranged plates of baby lettuces and edible flowers. Too big and too bold, the classically simple wedge languished like a mighty Sumo wrestler competing against a lithe ballerina for a starring role in "Swan Lake."

Furthermore, as Americans' obsession with healthy eating has expanded, the idea of what a salad should be has evolved with it. The once-mighty wedge salad never stood a chance, replaced first by sneeze plate-domed salad bars and seven-layer monstrosities, then sidelined by delicately plated arrangements of microgreens and pansies, and thoroughly dismissed in favor of the superfood-loaded mega bowls you'll find at the likes of Sweetgreen and Just Salad. 

Embrace the wedge salad, and make it your own

As Craig Couper, the chef at Michael Jordan's Steak House in Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune in 2018, a wedge salad is "a timeless thing. When all the elements are executed right, it's awesome." Clearly, I tend to agree. The classic wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese and bacon will always be a winner in my book. But if you're so inclined, there's plenty of room to experiment with other wedge-inspired combinations. And that's the beauty of the wedge salad. This iconic structured salad has plenty of potential to adapt to the flavors and trends of today. 

For a sweeter salad, top your iceberg wedge with berries, bacon, goat cheese, and chopped pecans, and drizzle poppy seed dressing over it all. Add a selection of meats and cheeses to build a towering antipasto wedge. Lean into Mediterranean flavors with olives, feta cheese, and cucumbers drizzled with an herby vinaigrette. For a fresh taste, toss a few cubes of watermelon on top of a classic wedge. And if you're feeling adventurous, why not experiment with an alternate wedge altogether. Maybe ditch the iceberg and replace it with a wedge of watermelon.

What goes around comes around, and it's about time

Four decades after its fall from grace, I'm happy to say that the wedge salad appears to be on the brink of experiencing a renaissance.  Whether ignited by a "Mad Men"-driven sense of nostalgia or maybe linked to the pandemic-related resurgence of comfort foods , the classic wedge salad is slowly inching its way back to its rightful place at centerstage. Responding to customer demand, Outback Steakhouse brought back its fan-favorite wedge salad in 2023, and the once-ubiquitous starter is gaining traction among 21st-century diners, many of whom may not remember its previous reign of glory. 

In the meantime, I'm certainly among those feeling nostalgic. I think it's time to recreate the long-ago events that bring back those happy childhood memories. This time, though, I'll start with a martini instead of a Shirley Temple. I'll savor every morsel of my wedge salad, then I'll tuck into — oh wait. Does anyone know a place that still does a classic baked, stuffed lobster? That's another mid-century delicacy that deserves a 21st-century comeback.