Before e-tailing, before mega malls, before mall rats, there was Ward Parkway.

This was the shopping center of my youth. It’s where I sat on Santa’s lap. Where I got lost in the Barbie section of Playland. Where I spent Saturdays at a Casual Corner knockoff with my best friend, Christie. And where I bought a scandalous LP at Musicland of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” (The vinyl boasts a full-color picture of Tim Curry in sweet-transvestite mode. My father made me use my own money to buy it.)

The shopping center, built in Kansas City in the 1950s, had a revolving roster of tenants. JC Penney and Montgomery Ward were longtime anchors. Stix, Baer & Fuller made an appearance in the ’70s, giving way about 10 years later to Dillard’s. Woolworth’s, Woolf Brothers and Putsch’s Cafeteria were big draws. So was the dance studio that trained the Kansas City Chiefs’ cheerleaders.

Sometime in the mid- to late-70s, an Italian restaurant opened at Ward Parkway. With its low lighting and small round tables, Rich & Marty’s was a date-night destination. With its reasonable prices and big servings, it appealed to families, too.

I started going there with my mom and dad. Later on, my friends and I went by ourselves. I can’t remember a single main course I ordered.

But man, I remember the salad.

Rich & Marty’s house salad had an almost cult following. Romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese and red onion slices were elevated from ordinary to almost naughty by an ingredient that was — at the time — rare and exotic: Marinated artichoke hearts.

People raved about that salad. In high school, someone tried to recreate it. I remember sitting in choir class while the alto next to me talked about making “The Rich & Marty Salad” in her very own kitchen.

“But where did you find the artichokes?” another alto asked.

“At the grocery store!” she said.

So began my own quest. I begged my mom to buy a jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a head of romaine and some red wine vinegar. (We had the canned Parmesan and red onion.) Following the alto’s notes, I chopped the romaine, sliced the onion, drained the artichokes and tossed everything together. I sifted on Parmesan cheese, sprinkled on red wine vinegar, then tasted.

Everyone agreed. It was a pretty good facsimile of Rich & Marty’s salad.

I still make that salad today. It’s fast. It’s easy. And it’s a reliable side dish when the pantry is bare.

Plus, it’s really, really good.

ward parkway2Ward Parkway has changed a lot over the years. It has a new facade today. It boasts a host of big-box stores, a revamped movie theater and its very own Trader Joe’s.

But I prefer a simpler time: Musicland. Playland.

And Rich & Marty’s.

 

Rich & Marty’s House Salad (Adapted from Rich. And Marty. And that alto.)

Now that I know more about how food works, it’s no wonder this salad is so good. It’s seasoned by both the red wine vinegar and the acid in the artichoke marinade; the Parmesan adds an earthy, creamy note; the romaine and onion give great crunch. And don’t forget the artichoke hearts! They give both tang and silkiness.

r&m salad tossed

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  • Half a red onion
  • 1 6-ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar

r&m salad crispingRoughly chop the romaine into bite-size pieces. Thinly slice the red onion. Put both in an ice bath. This will crisp the romaine and take the sharpness away from the onion.

Drain the artichoke hearts, reserving the liquid. Roughly chop them.

Drain and dry the romaine and red onion. Place them in a big salad bowl.

Put the artichoke hearts atop the lettuce and onion. Then shower Parmesan over the top. You want an abundant layer of cheese. Think of a light snowfall:

r&m salad layered

Season the salad with salt and pepper, then sprinkle on some red wine vinegar and drizzle on some of the artichoke marinade.

Toss well, then taste. You want to taste more vinegar than marinade. Adjust to your liking, then serve immediately.

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