An Old-Fashioned Department Store Salad
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CHEF SALAD: Gail Dosik (One Tough Cookie)
MS. DOSIK SAID SHE WOULD not make the salad herself.
“I would like to discuss the great salad of my childhood, of my teen years,” she said, when we Zoomed. “But, I have never made it. And I’m going to be honest: I’m not going to make it. I just want to remember it as it was.”
Unfortunately, Dosik couldn’t remember what the salad was called nor could she find any record of it, anywhere. So, I said I would find and recreate her beloved salad myself.
Dosik is the kind of woman I admire. She does what she wants to do and does not do what she does not want to do. Or, it seems that way to me. For example, she worked in the NYC fashion industry in sales for over two decades and was doing quite well and was happy enough. But she never really saw herself as a fashion person. What she really wanted to do was bake.
So right before she turned 50, Dosik left the fashion world for food, enrolling at The French Culinary Institute. After graduation, while interning for a woman who specializes in fancy cakes, Dosik found that she was instead quite obsessed with fancy cookies—in her case: intricately and elaborately beautiful, hand-decorated cookies that any graphic designer or illustrator would be proud to have created. “I do not have an artistic bone in my body. It’s only with cookies,” she claimed. “I just think they’re the coolest things. I love the idea of them: each cookie can tell a story, convey a sentiment without words.”
Just like salads (sort of).
Soon, Dosik had become the go-to, high-end decorated cookie woman of Manhattan—aka One Tough Cookie—and was featured by just about every news media outlet that covered food, including The New York Times (watch their video about Dosik here and follow her on Instagram here).
Today, though, she is retired from cookies and lives in North Carolina, just a few hours from where I do, with her wife, Jackie, and their very best friend from Manhattan, Joey. They also have two very cute Papillons, Vivi and Josie.
The five of them had long planned retire together as a family, build a house in beautiful Asheville, and eat salad together.
I made that last part up, but they do in fact have a crisp green garden salad with dinner every single night, which Joey makes in a very ritualized manner, which includes salad treats for the dogs, who count on it. Joey is Italian, Dosik pointed out, so he always does it the same way, with the simple oil and vinegar dressing right in the bowl. “It’s Arugula, romaine carrot, cucumber—the cucumber has to be Persian cucumber and it has to be from Trader Joe’s because they’re sweeter than the ones from Publix. And the Sugar Bombs.”
“They’re a tomato hybrid and they are so sweet!” Dosik said. “When we go to the grocer, we buy all of them. I don't care about leaving some for anybody else. If there are just five packages left, I’m buying all five packages.”
Joey and Jackie popped into our Zoom room at this point, so I introduced to them to my cousin Toni, whom I was visiting in Atlanta for the week, having not seen her and her daughters, Addie and Mariah (two of my favorite teenagers), in ages. (I bought some Sugar Bombs that night and we ate them in a big salad —they cost about a million dollars and they were totally worth it.)
(Here is Toni with her poodle, Zoe, on one of our night walks. I was so happy to see the cousins after such a long time.)
We all noticed that Jackie and Toni were both wearing leopard pajamas, which makes me believe in karmic circles. Joey showed me his favorite olive oil (Trader Joe’s Tunisian Organic Extra Virgin Unfiltered Chetoui Olive Oil, which I immediately purchased) and vinegar (Jose Paez Lobato 20yr Sherry Vinegar) for his dressing, as well as his favorite salt (Le Saunier De Camargue Fleur De Sel).
And then Dosik and I got back to the forgotten salad of her girlhood, served at the Tea Room at Woodward & Lothrop, Washington DC’s first department store, which was founded in 1880, opened its majestic flagship in 1887, spawned many suburban outlets, and closed in 1995 to the chagrin of many. Dosik and her friend Barbara grew up in the suburbs in Maryland, and once they got their drivers licenses, they would motor into Bethesda every weekend to go shopping and then have lunch at Woodie’s, as everyone called it. “We thought we were so cool,” she says. “I grew up with that store.”
“So one day, Barbara, who knew the lay of the land, said: ‘Oh, we’re going to have the Woody Salad but we’re going to have it chopped.’ It may have been called the WL salad. I just can’t remember what it was called. I’ve tried to find it a million ways from Sunday and I can’t.”
Tell me more, I said.
“Okay. It was turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, sweet pickles—all chopped up over a bed of lettuce, but I like it all mixed up. I don’t like the bed of lettuce thing. I like it all mixed up with a dressing that I could swear was like Miracle Whip because it was sweet.”
“Wait, is it a chef salad?” I asked, pretending I hadn’t heard the Miracle Whip part.
“No!” she said. “Although when I went with my mother and she ordered it, it did come with the meat and cheese in julienned strips on a bed of lettuce and a dollop of dressing. And I’ve never been so disappointed in my life. It was too civilized, and it didn’t taste the same as it did with the small dice—which makes it crazy.”
Either way, no one in Dosik’s life even remembers this salad at all. “I have asked Barbara. I said: ‘Remember the salad?’ She said, ‘What salad?’ And I was like, You’ve got to be kidding.”
As I mentioned earlier, it became obvious almost immediately that my job here was to track this salad down and re-create it the way Dosik liked it (no julienne; no “bed of lettuce thing”). I told her that the dressing sounded a lot like Durkee Famous Salad and Sandwich Sauce or a classic boiled dressing to me, mainly because there was no way I was using Miracle Whip—ever. “You probably don’t know what boiled dressing is,” I said. “Because you’re a Yankee.”
“I’m not a Yankee anymore,” she said. “I’ve lived here four years!”
I did not argue with her.
After we hung up, I did some research, including buying a book called “Woodward & Lothrop: A Store Worthy of the Nation’s Capital,” by Tim Gunn (which had an entire chapter titled “The Woodies Tea Room” but no reference to the salad) and getting excessively engrossed in a fantastic site called The Department Store Museum, which had a section on Woodies and also no reference to the salad. For days I turned up nothing, until I included the words “homemade dressing” in my ingredients search and was pointed to a salad that originated not in D.C. but in Detroit, at that city’s beloved and now defunct department store, J.L. Hudson. Woodies had hijacked it?
I wrote to Dosik: “This salad is starting to sound a heckuva lot like. . . . A Maurice Salad! It’s the same thing but with olives. And I keep reading about how it has a "special homemade dressing.”
Her response: “OMGOMGOMGOMG! You know I couldn’t remember the name of the salad, but it was THE MAURICE! And, my 16-year-old incredibly sheltered self thought Maurice was the first name of either Woodward OR Lothrop! OMG, YOU CRACKED IT!”
By the time Dosik and I had realized that what we might dealing with was a Maurice, I’d travelled from Atlanta to Watkinsville, GA, to visit my friend Wyler. Here she is with her insane dog LulaBelle and her Mock Orange, which grows in the yard of her very old house, along with some of the most wonderful old-fashioned plants I’ve ever seen.
I started testing two boiled dressings at Wyler’s, one of which is a facsimile of the Durkee dressing, which my mother used to make her terrific potato salad. It’s tart, slightly sweet, and delicious. I improvised a double boiler to make these; it was easy as pie and they were both divine.
When we made the salad, which is quite large, Wyler and I devoured giant piles of it tossed with the incredibly delicious, allegedly official dressing that completes the Maurice; it’s full of chopped egg. (I made some alterations, to capture the vinegary tartness Dosik remembered, and added minced onion and chives in place of onion juice and parsley).
We also tried the salad with the two different boiled dressings I adapted. We loved all three versions, which are quite rich. So. I should repeat something I’ve said before, in case you’re new here and are trying to get ready for bathing suit season or are in Officer’s Candidate School or something like that: This is NOT A DIET NEWSLETTER.
After I sent Dosik this newsletter to look over, she wrote back: “I have to admit that reading this and finding out it was not a W&L original concoction is a little like learning there is no Santa Claus or, in my case, where babies really come from. But, I’m so happy to know I was not losing my damn mind!”
Here’s the recipe, using Gail’s method (with a few adaptations on my part). I think you will lose your damn mind, in a good way.
*RECIPE: The Gail Dosik Chopped Maurice Salad
Serves 4 (or 6, if two extra people show up at lunchtime)
For the Salad
½ pound smoked ham, cut into small dice
½ pound smoked turkey breast, cut into small dice
½ pound good Swiss cheese, cut into small dice
1/2 cup of sliced sweet gherkin pickles
½ head Iceberg lettuce, cut in half lengthwise then sliced thinly crosswise (in thin shreds)
½ head of romaine, sliced crosswise in thicker shreds
pimento-stuffed green olives for garnish; two for each serving
2 1/2 teaspoons vinegar (I used red wine)
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon good Dijon mustard
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons finely diced red onion
1 hard-cooked egg, diced
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste.
In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in mustard, mayonnaise, and onion. Season with a bit of salt to taste, remembering that the salad has salty ham and cheese. Gently stir in the chopped egg and chives to combine. Correct seasonings: a bit more lemon? More salt?
To Make the Salad
Fill a large shallow bowl with the shredded lettuces and toss together. In a separate bowl, toss together the ham, turkey, cheese and pickles, then place the mixture in a big jumble atop the lettuce. Top it all with a very large dollop of the dressing, show it off at the table, then toss well, adding a bit more dressing if necessary. This is not a composed salad; if you serve it on a bed of lettuce or julienne the meat and cheese, Dosik will not be happy. Wyler and I garnished with the suggested stuffed green olives, a couple on each plate.
That’s it. We’re done here. Coming up midweek, we’ll show paying subscribers how to make those heavenly boiled dressings, and how to make salad that always makes us happy. (It contains glazed pecans.) Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share the Department of Salad: Official Bulletin with your friends and loved ones who deserve it!