For the first time in my nearly two years reviewing restaurants, my most frequent dining partner — my husband — uttered a sentence I'd never heard him say: “I should have ordered a salad.”
It happened during a dinner at Mixed, a new salad-centric fast-casual restaurant in west Omaha.
“Yes, you should have,” I said, continuing to eat my rather tasty salad while he looked somewhat forlornly at his panini.
If there's one thing to keep in mind at Mixed, it's that: Order a salad. I tried four during three recent visits and liked almost all of them. A wrap was serviceable and that panini my husband had was just OK.
Mixed offers a fast, relatively inexpensive, healthy lunch option in a sea of otherwise mostly unhealthy fast-casual restaurants, and I give it credit for that. Bonus points to the fact that it's a locally owned franchise and there's only one other location, in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The small restaurant is sandwiched in a mini mall off the corner of 120th and Blondo Streets, and the setup inside is basic — roughly the same layout as a Subway restaurant but a bit nicer. Diners line up at a counter where salads, sandwiches and wraps are made to order. The salads come in two sizes, “green” and “super green,” and at the end of the row of ingredients, the server dumps the bowl onto a cutting board and chops the salad together to mix the ingredients, hence the restaurant's name. The salads are served in eye-catching slanted silver bowls that are chilled to be icy cold.
I met my mom at Mixed one afternoon for lunch. She's gluten-free and was pleased to see that a number of the salads on the Mixed menu are marked as such. We were both impressed with the level of attention the people behind the counter gave to her request that they wipe down the area where they chop salads before preparing hers. A worker cleaned both cutting boards twice, and even wiped under bowls that held dry condiments such as croutons. Before she chopped my mom's salad, she took out a pair of clean cutters and changed her gloves. It was more than either of us expected.
My mom got the Coastal salad with a blend of spring mix and romaine lettuce, Albacore tuna, teriyaki shrimp, Roma tomatoes, sliced black olives and chopped eggs along with the gluten-free onion dressing. We both liked her dressing, which was sweet and tangy like a Vidalia onion, and her bowl was packed with tuna and shrimp. Things got a bit soggy near the bottom of the bowl, and she said she thought it had too much black olive juice. Neither of us could taste much teriyaki flavor on the shrimp.
Mike Yakopec, who owns and operates the Omaha Mixed, said later that the shrimp doesn't have as much flavor as he would like. He said they are working to get a better, bigger shrimp for the salads and also to get the teriyaki flavor to be stronger when they add it in the kitchen.
I got the Caribbean Crunch salad — two ingredients in the mix, granola and cinnamon and sugar, caught my eye. I got it with spring mix lettuce — diners have the choice of spring mix, spinach, romaine or iceberg — and it also came with grilled chicken, dried cranberries, grapes and cucumber slices.
Yakopec told me it's the most popular salad on the menu, and I liked it, too. I liked the grit and sweetness from the cinnamon and sugar. The mix of textures from the dried cranberries and grapes was nice, and the bowl had a sweet-and-savory component that worked. Diners get the choice of a breadstick, a bag of chips or a pickle with their salad. I had a breadstick, which was served warm and tasted fine and slightly garlicky.
My mom's salad seemed healthier than mine; we both got the dressing on the side, and I had the granola on the side, too. Yakopec told me all of the smaller-sized “green” salads have fewer than 400 calories and that the Caribbean Crunch salad comes in at 280 calories before dressing, which surprised me.
Prices at Mixed are in line with most fast-casual lunch places I've been to. The smaller salads are around $8 and the large — enough for two to easily share — are around $10. That's similar to a salad at, for instance, Panera Bread or another chain like that. Mixed also has the “you pick two” option, which lets diners get a half sandwich or wrap along with a salad for just under $7.
Another night, my husband and I were only one of two tables with customers during the dinner hour. This time, I went with another salad, the Club Six, which is basically all the components of a classic club sandwich in a bowl. I got it with a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, and it came with diced bits of ham and turkey, crumbled bacon, Roma tomatoes, sliced red onion and shredded cheddar cheese. The ingredients tasted fresh. I especially liked the “Franch” dressing, a house-made blend of ranch and French dressing that was just sweet and thick enough.
My husband was less thrilled with his “Phanini” sandwich, which had lettuce, roast beef, sliced provolone, chopped green peppers, red onions and Midwest chipotle dressing.
The roast beef was thin and didn't have much flavor, and my husband yearned for a bigger kick from the chipotle sauce, which to him tasted more like mayonnaise than anything else. Instead of finishing his sandwich, he polished off the remainder of my salad.
The restaurant is working to improve those sandwiches, Yakopec said. They're hoping to get a bigger, better ciabatta roll and better quality meat.
“We know it's lacking,” he said. “We've had some issues.”
I went back to Mixed one more time and decided on the Cranberry Almond wrap and the Caesarized salad as part of the combo meal. The wrap was better than the panini we'd tried earlier, and much better than the salad turned out to be. Inside the wrap, grilled chicken met dried cranberries and crunchy almonds, and cucumbers and lettuce added more texture. The wrap was a bit gummy on the outside, though that's something I've come to expect from almost all wraps. The recommended cilantro lime vinaigrette drizzled inside the wrap was zesty, though I'd have liked more cilantro flavor. Yakopec agreed the dressing could be more herbaceous.
The Caesarized had all the classic components of a Caesar salad, including shredded Parmesan cheese and croutons made from a sliced breadstick, but the dressing tasted like a thin, wan Italian rather than a Caesar.
Yakopec said the full-fat Caesar dressing is great, but the one I ordered, a fat-free version, is lacking. He plans to replace it.
For a rather creative, lower-calorie lunch, Mixed does a good job. It's clear this salad restaurant has focused most of its energy on just that, salads. If it steps things up in terms of sandwiches and wraps, it could become one of the better locally owned, fast-casual places for a quick, healthy and satisfying meal.