Great Cheap Eats: The Salad Bar at Big Fatty's

You see this sometimes at lunchtime at Big Fatty's. Someone arrives and cases the salad bar. She notices there's shrimp that day. Or slices of filet. Or maybe salmon salad. She pulls out her cellphone, furiously taps out a text, and then fills her plate. Ten minutes later, a carful of office-mates arrives and they, too, order the salad bar and then fill their plates with an astounding array of things you find at salad bars and things you just plain don't.

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For $6.50 each. Which includes tax.

You've probably gotten the salad bar there yourself. Big Fatty's sells 60 to 100 of them a day -- which over the weeks and months adds up to a lot of people. 

Here's something you probably don't know, though: It's an improvisation every day. Sure, you'll always find the regulars: lettuce, onions, carrots, beets and other things you'd expect. But because Big Fatty's also shares space with its less meat-heavy sibling, Maple Street Catering, there's always the option of asking them to prep a bit extra of something they're making for an event, or of scrounging tips and pieces that can be turned into something unusual for the salad bar, or of giving leftover vegetables renewed meaning in life.

And then, whoever's preparing the salad bar also has free rein. Yesterday it was Sue James, a chef who also runs the Engine Room, the events space down the freight house block that's owned by Maple Street. "I can create whatever I want," she said. "Today I whipped out an artichoke salad with roasted garlic and roasted red peppers. Right now I’ve got brussels sprouts roasting, those’ll be with parmesan. And in a bit I’ll make up a fresh tabouleh."

Sue James

She also happened to make a peach-blueberry cobbler for dessert. And a cold berry gazpacho for the soup. Because every day for that $6.50 you can also get dessert, soup, and bread from the Red Hen Bakery. 

The totally cool thing about the salad bar is that the variety isn't just in what you can eat, but in who eats it. Office workers in button-down shirts or dresses, construction workers, the guys from the state highway crews, workers from Hartford's Town Garage... 

When lunchtime hits...

"When I first started thinking about this six or seven years ago," says Brandon Fox, Big Fatty's and Maple Street Catering's owner, "the only places you could get a salad were the Pizza Hut and Price Chopper. And Jesse’s for dinner."

That's changed in a big way, huh? 

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