Even if Rick Pohlman never left the kitchen, he could tell when the weather turned by the orders coming into his kitchen at Rick’s on Main. When the weather gets colder, diners at the East Aurora fine-dining restaurant begin their seasonal migration from fish and salads to meat and pasta.
But one salad that’s going to stick through the winter is the pepper stack, said Pohlman, chef-owner. The favorite of lunchtime browsers and vegetarians has been on the menu for a few years. It was born of two salads that were part of the menu when Chef Chris Gibney sought to simplify, Pohlman said.
“In summer, we have so many salads – we have a fried artichoke chicken salad, we have a beet salad, we have an heirloom. Too many.” So Gibney devised a hybrid that featured aspects of a tempura vegetable salad and the ubiquitous Caprese salad, featuring good tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
To make the pepper stack, “we take a poblano pepper, because we want a little bit of heat, and a red and green bell pepper, and cut them into rings,” said Pohlman. A large Vidalia or Spanish onion follows. The resulting rings are dipped in tempura batter, and fried briefly, for less than a minute. “You don’t want mush,” Pohlman said. “You want the crispness of the veg.”
Then “we make a lemon vinaigrette, with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, shallots, a little garlic, and put that on mesclun greens,” he said.
To put the dish together, the plate first gets a Caprese-like salad, with fresh mozzarella, red and yellow tomatoes, “heirlooms, if we can get them.” That’s dressed with good olive oil, and balsamic reduction.
Then the fried vegetable rings are stacked into a hollow tower, which is stuffed with the lemon vinaigrette salad. Shavings of Parmesan crown the works, and it’s served swiftly, while the tempura-fried vegetables are still warm and crunchy. It’s $10.95.
The fried vegetables gives it enough heft for a vegetarian entrée, or lunch for someone who doesn’t feel like a burger. “It’s amazing, people’s eating habits, the way the weather dictates,” Pohlman said. But make no mistake: the stack is staying.