Chasing The French & Blue Cheese Side Salad

In Minnesota it’s just kind of summer until it’s fall.

We spend six months complaining about the winter and four months complaining about the heat and humidity. Then, there’s fall.

Once the tips of the trees start to change colors, there’s no turning back. We’re given this  sweet, fleeting stretch of magic before everything’s cold and brown and bare.

For two weeks the cross street is lined with a canopy trees with little orange leaves that gently sprinkle down like a snow globe, forming shallow waves on the streets.

Then, the trees along our street turn red. These leaves are bigger. College students pause under the canopy to pose for Instagram photos and selfies before continuing on their way.

Our fall’s that beautiful, it’s that fleeting.

Fall in Minnesota is sweatshirt weather. You reach for your favorite hoodie before taking your dog on a walk – ours happily trots through the crunchy leaves that smell like tea.

The air smells like bonfires or someone else’s grill. Fall air carries all of the smells better.  Farmers market stands are filled with squashes, apples, and apple cider doughnuts.

We wait all year for this. Despite the following bitter cold, it’s worth it.

Salad Quest
The other week I developed a very specific craving for a garden salad made with unfancy, crisp greens and drenched in french and homemade blue cheese dressing.

Before I met Jake, I’d always been a ranch girl. Ironically, he despises ranch. When we went out to eat with his family, I’d watch as everyone ordered side salads with french and blue cheese.

Sweet and salty. Of course it tastes good. Someone in grade school taught me to mix french and ranch so it was a natural next step.

Before the pandemic, we’d occasionally have our families over for Red Lobster knock-off night. I would steam crab legs, bake cheddar bay biscuits, and serve a giant salad with french and homemade blue cheese dressing.

Red Lobster has always served weirdly good side salads – fresh greens, better than you might expect dressings. . . I can always tell when a restaurant serves food supplier salad dressings from the big jars. Theirs tastes better.

Right when this craving hit, our family ordered take-out from Red Lobster (for a socially distanced picnic). More so than the biscuits or the shrimp, I desired a salad with french and blue cheese dressing. An easy fix, I thought.

“They don’t have side salads anymore, just Caesar,” the restaurant told us – and not just here, but any location. Damn pandemic.

The next weekend I chased another french and blue cheese salad. I ordered it from a restaurant a family member remembered served a good one.

It was missing the french, the greens were fancy, and rusty around the edges. I ate it anyway hoping it would fill the longing. It didn’t.

During a time when even Red Lobster cancels most of their salads, I should have realized that this is the wrong time to chase the perfect takeout side salad. Restaurants are streamlining their menus to survive. Supply chains might be tighter and turnover of produce slower. A side salad with french and blue cheese is just not a feature anyone specializes in.

I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.

Blue cheese dressing is one of the easiest things to make. When I made it for Red Lobster nights, I chose a random recipe from the internet – they typically combine mayo, milk, sour cream, lemon juice, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and blue cheese, of course.

Homemade blue cheese dressing tastes like magic.

After work on Friday, I raced to Whole Foods to gather ingredients for my big, perfect french and blue cheese salad. Whole Foods wasn’t my first choice to shop pre-pandemic, but has been so diligent with safety measures, it’s become a go-to.

The thing with Whole Foods is that, while they have all of the typical products, they have their own “wholesome” versions. Sure they have ketchup, but it’s not gonna be Heinz’s. They have sour cream, but it’s not Kemp’s or Top The Tater.

Something very important for you to know about making Blue Cheese Dressing is that you do not want to fork with anything except regular Hellman’s or Duke’s mayo. Do not buy the extra creamy or light. Or the mayo made with olive oil or sunflower or avocado oils. WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT BUY THE ORGANIC HELLMAN’S. At least, not to make blue cheese dressing.

Long story short, the dressing ended up in the trash. We ordered pizza and settled for jarred blue cheese fortified with generous handfuls of blue cheese crumbles.

Good enough for now, until I try again.


  1. michelle

    Two words: Outback Steakhouse. Their side salad is always fresh and their blue cheese dressing is outstanding. (Their French dressing is good too.) I also suggest asking for extra croutons; their croutons are so good I wish they sold them in bulk.

    • Jeni

      Thanks for the tip!! Haven’t visited since the pandemic but always liked their food

      • katie

        Now I want outback and red lobster!

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