During the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930-1959), it wasn’t uncommon to see movie stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, or Audrey Hepburn hunkered down into an elegant booth in the famous Brown Derby Restaurant. Originally opened in 1926, in a building shaped like a brown bowler hat, the restaurant became synonymous with the joint that Tinseltown preferred for simply good food, great conversation, and peer-to-glistening-peer camaraderie at the end of long studio days.
Although the restaurant enjoyed its star studded run and a few franchise branch offs during its heyday, it fizzled out along with Hollywood’s good ole days and was long ago stripped of its previous glory. Today, one cherished culinary classic exists that was rumored to be created by Brown Derby co-founder Robert H. Cobb late one night while rummaging through the refrigerator after hours to satisfy a hungry and prestigious patron. A bowl filled with lettuce and anything else that was ready, ripe and available became the Cobb Salad, thus sparking a lunchtime legacy that retains its reputation today.
Cobbs around the nation vary around a core of ingredients including iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and blue cheese dressing. Sometimes diced into tiny pieces, other times slit into hearty quartered wedges; the tomato and egg are essential to the dish. The blue cheese dressing is served in varieties from vinaigrettes to creams but always with a dash of added crumbles. But regardless of the preparation, the Cobb remains one of America’s most popular salads among all economic and class divides.
At Melvyn’s Restaurant in Palm Springs, California, you can still receive a dose of Brown Derby-esque ambience along with your cobb. Not only was the restaurant a preferred spot during the Golden Age of Hollywood for the weekend getaways of philandering playboys and sun-starved starlets, but it offered the same kind of simple good comfort foods in an elegant dining room setting with the ever present sounds of a piano player and a good old fashioned maitre’d who even to this day, remembers every patron’s name. Today, this tradition continues and the cobb is served in an exquisite tableside presentation prior to being exquisitely tossed.
Today, it’s hard to find a restaurant whether high or lowbrow that doesn’t have this salad staple on its menu. The version here is updated into a hybrid that incorporates the beloved standard wedge as well and includes chicken and avocado, uplifting it to hearty meal status.
My favorite chef, Aaron Kiefer of East Meets West Catering, makes the best form of a redeveloped hybrid wedge/cobb salad that I know of. He has graciously shared it with me below for the pleasure of all my readers! Enjoy!
HYBRID WEDGE/COBB SALAD
Yields 4 servings
2 heads iceberg lettuce, cleaned and cut in half
4 strips Applewood bacon, cured and crisp (see recipe below)
4 heirloom or seasonal tomatoes, diced and cored
2 cooked chicken breasts, marinated, roasted and sliced
1 avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
4 poached eggs, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons snipped, fresh chives
1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
2 red onions, shaved
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Mix ingredients, dip raw bacon into the cure and then bake until crisp.
Blue Cheese Dressing
2 cups blue cheese crumbles
3 cups red wine vinegar
1-1/2 cup aioli or mayonnaise
1 bunch of green onion, chopped
Divide all ingredients up equally in four parts and sprinkle each portion of one lettuce half. Drizzle with the blue cheese dressing to individual taste.
• The perfect cocktail to accompany a cobb salad should be fruity enough to allow a sublimely crisp flavor such as apple or pear to become a top note on the tang of the dressing and snap of the bacon. The French Pear Martini can be made by rimming a glass with super-fine sugar and then shaking the following ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice: 1-1/2 oz. St. Germain liquor and 1-1/2 oz. pear vodka. Strain into the sugar-rimmed cocktail glass and float some champagne on the top. This makes an impressive and “springy” treat!
• For wine, choose a fresh and fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
• Serve the cobb as a salad dish for an elegant, outdoor garden party along with an antipasto platter and a chilled summertime soup.