Tossing Some Salad Around
Look out, Souper Salad. There's a new posse in town offering up buffet-style health-conscious fare. The San Diego-based Sweet Tomatoes introduced its first Houston location off I-10, with a planned five to seven additional area restaurants on the drawing board. And based on an initial visit, it will surely be the beanstalk by which others are measured.

"We decided to open up in this city because Houston has a high population of people who eat out," says general manager and Houston native Anson Brantley. "Salad bars became popular [initially] because of the health craze and people wanting to eat lighter. But you can also come here if you want to have a really big meal."

Diners are greeted by two 60-foot buffet tables that resemble nothing short of vegetable landing strips. Since both tables are identical, there's no reaching over to the "far side" of a regular line and spilling items into other containers. The line features scores of salad items both standard (cherry tomatoes) and more exotic (banana squash, jicama). There is also a rotation of four different tossed salads, eight different pasta salads and ten dressings.

Also included in the price of the meal is an all-you-can-eat potato, muffin and bread bar, focaccia pizza, eight different hot soups (don't miss the cream of broccoli or classic chicken noodle) and a hot pasta bar with four varieties made fresh continuously (the walnut pesto is wonderful). A fresh fruit bar and dessert station round out the experience.

Brantley says freshness is utmost on his mind -- and indeed, an extensive sampling by this reporter (I know, I get all the tough assignments) proved he wasn't just giving the company PR line -- it was indeed the freshest salad bar I've ever eaten at. Most of the items have a one-day buffet-line life, and tossed salads are tossed themselves after 20 minutes on the line.

Sweet Tomatoes will soon break ground for a restaurant at Willowbrook Mall, scheduled to open soon after the first of the year. The company, which has been around since 1978, is also looking at real estate in Sugar Land, Baybrook Mall and the new Katy Mills Mall. "I know the concept will do well here," Brantley says. "Because there's really something for anyone to eat." And while it's a bit more expensive than other salad bars in town, the sheer number of options -- and the quality of the food -- more than makes up for it.

-- Bob Ruggiero

Sweet Tomatoes is located at 8775 Katy Freeway. Hours are 11 a.m.9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Buffet price is $6.19 for lunch, $7.49 dinner, children six-12 $3.99, and under six free. Drink is not included. 365-9594.


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