The Cobb, too, is not quite the traditional chopped salad but a huge green explosion that includes heaps of crisp romaine along with tons of grilled chicken chunks from a "Rocky Junior," a pampered, semi-free-range Northern California bird, plus chunks of fine heritage bacon, hard-cooked egg, Point Reyes bleu cheese, a little avocado (more, please!), cherry tomatoes, and a creamy dressing. We all liked it a lot. Good bacon enchants anything it touches.
"I think that next time I'll get the grilled-veggie salad," said Lynne, who sometimes golfs on the nine-hole course here, so is likely to make many repeat visits. We'd eyed the seasonal grilled veggies through the kitchen's glass walls, and they were beautiful: eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms, and also small brussels sprouts (which Lynne likes). (Can you ask them to "hold the sprouts"?)
The entrée salads come with a small, grilled, herbed slab of ciabatta bread from Point Loma's Con Pane bakery. Once we'd tasted it, we wished we'd ordered at least one sandwich. Those come with your choice of proteins or grilled veggies, dressed with roasted red peppers and aioli on that very bread.
Instead, we tried a couple of "hot plates," which consist of your choice of grilled item, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, and your choice of a small salad. The Angus flank steak, beautifully rare (to order), was remarkably tender for a flank, but I thought it needed a sauce. "This isn't a well-marbled luxury-grade steak that can stand on its own," I said when Mark asked what I thought of it. "It's just dead cow. I want a sauce — any sauce, even herbed butter." I passed him the plate and he agreed. We all approved the simple, honest mashed potatoes of Yukon Golds with cream and butter. But if I had to do it over again, I'd order the beef as a sandwich, to get some aioli and red peppers on it. We also tried a hot plate with the chicken, also simply done — a good chicken, grilled skin-on, albeit breast only, as far as I could tell. With mash and salad, if it were broiled instead of grilled, it would be my mom's most frequent entrée — the difference being that, like the chickens of my earliest pre-factory-farm childhood, the Rocky Junior might have taken a walk in the yard and snacked on a bug or two. It tastes like old-time chicken, not like factory- protein.
Hot entrées come with small salads of your choice. We had the butter lettuce with the steak, with a pleasant tarragon dressing, and the much more interesting baby spinach salad with the chicken. That one included goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts in a Cabernet dressing — a group of "grown-up" flavors, each with a touch of the Dark Side and, when combined, a treat.
Desserts, cooked by the mother of a local owner, break out of the chain straitjacket. She is good. The lemon cupcake is lovable. Mark nailed it when he noticed that the texture resembled cornbread — a little grainy and coarse, with character. The lemon icing is really lemony and not disgustingly sweet. A special of cheesecake topped with caramelized apple slices resembled apple pie filling over cheesecake with a tender, crumbly graham crust. The cake was sensual, moist and custardy, the apples succulently semi-firm, the caramel very sweet. Mom's gone a bit decadent with this twist on apple pie, heading for the Dark Side as she beckons to you in her pink apron with a slightly wicked grin.
Judging by the Friday-night crowd, Tender Greens obviously has enormous appeal besides it price point. There was a constant influx of families with kids (especially the three-to-six set). The kids were all well behaved and must've liked the food, since we didn't see a single tantrum. (But then they hadn't yet turned into conformist school-age brats demanding McNuggets and fries.) And the food is not only wholesome but good-tasting. It takes no forethought (or reservations) to eat here, and portions are large enough to make potentially two meals, especially if you start with one of the soups. Hans-Trevor was right: This is high-quality food all the way, and quite amazing for the price — satisfying even if you've long since given up hope of ever shrinking to a size two. You need not be a rabbit — an omnivorous raccoon (or, dare I say it? a heritage hog) can enjoy it too.
- Liberty Station, 2400 Historic Decatur Road, Point Loma, 619-226-6254, tendergreensfood.com
- HOURS: Sunday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday until 10:00 p.m.
- PRICES: Soups, $4; small salads, $5; sandwiches, hot plates, entrée salads (including those with animal proteins), $10; desserts, $3.
- CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Local organic produce, with or without mesquite-grilled beef, free-range chicken, or local tuna, in a variety of soups, salads, simple hot entrées, or sandwiches. Limited, inexpensive international wine selection; craft beers and ales; aguas frescas and house-made lemonade.
- PICK HITS: Rustic chicken soup, grilled chicken Cobb, baby spinach salad, lemon cupcake. Other good bets: ciabatta sandwich, e.g. with grilled Angus beef; grilled vegetable salad, seasonal dessert, and soup specials.
- NEED TO KNOW: Modified cafeteria-style service; no reservations normally taken or needed. Outdoor dining patio. Rather noisy inside. Three lacto-vegetarian and two vegan main-course salads. Family friendly with kiddie menu available.