Since Sherry Biscario helped start the Poppyseed in 1989, she has lost count of women who told her how hard it was to convince men to eat at the Blasdell restaurant. It’s partly the name, which rings too tutti-frutti to some meat-and-potatoes types. It’s also the menu, which does, in fact, tilt vegward, with an emphasis on healthy choices, including vegetarian options. Beyond its 10-ounce Angus burger, it has no big hunk of beef on the menu. But it does offer an outstanding array of entree salads. Two feature sirloin steak, but they are all hefty and elaborate enough for dinner. ¶ When I visited on a recent Tuesday night, I saw a restaurant overflowing with customers, roughly half men. Once dragged across the threshold, many men return under their own power, Biscario told me later. Which helped explain why, with an Outback Steakhouse 50 yards away, I saw so many men standing, patiently waiting at a place called the Poppyseed.
If not drawn to the Poppyseed in the pursuit of my professional duties, I might have driven by it for a lifetime, and never stopped for dinner. Why? My beef isn’t with missing slabs of cow, it’s the strip-mall effect, subconsciously glossing over places whose façades can seem sterile, impersonal, cookie-cutter. Once inside the Poppyseed, though, my bias evaporated in the snug confines of a family restaurant built on well-worn booths and populated by a hustling squad of servers.
Health-conscious eaters have a selection of vegetarian entrees and gluten-free pastas to choose from in the $15 to $18 range. But there’s also indulgent naughtiness like chicken wing dip ($10), an appropriately gooey melting pot of shredded chicken, chopped celery and hot sauce with blue, Cheddar and cream cheeses. It is served with tortilla chips sprinkled with more shredded cheese. The tapenade and hummus appetizer ($9), served with plenty of well-griddled pita bread, was fresh but meeker than I prefer. Use of mild, buttery California olives left the tapenade lacking the puckery bite I enjoy from Mediterranean olives, and the hummus was just as mild.
There’s a raft of wraps and sandwiches on ciabatta, croissant and cinnamon bread, from $9 to $13. The L.A. cinnamon sandwich ($13) packed smoked turkey, cream cheese and dried cranberries between slices of griddled cinnamon bread. The fillings were fine, even fun, but an off-note to the toast reminded me of old oil. The accompanying sweet potato fries, served with honey, were dispatched swiftly.
All was forgiven when the salads arrived. The Popeye ($12) brought lots of well-seasoned chicken tenders, emphatically browned but still moist enough, with heaps of chopped walnuts, artichoke hearts, dried cranberries and griddled pita, all on a bed of baby spinach and shredded mozzarella. The Sausalito ($15) offered tender strips of sirloin steak, grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms with chopped fresh tomatoes on a mixture of iceberg and romaine lettuces.
An outstanding salad needs a memorable dressing, and the Poppyseed has a bunch of them, including a garlicky dill yogurt that had half of my meal dipped into it at one point or another. A punchy poppyseed number whose balance of creamy sweetness and vinegary zing reminded me why I like bread-and-butter pickles. Those two are housemade, but I also enjoyed the pale green cusabi, a creamy elixir with a horseradish-like wasabi punch.
The salads satisfied with their generous size, quality of ingredients and cross-element harmony, leaving our party polishing the plates off, with no spurned components left behind.
I took a dip in the healthy end with a Muddy Shoes black-bean-and-quinoa burger, served on multigrain ciabatta with alfalfa sprouts and tomato ($13). The menu said it was spicy, but it came out dull until I applied some of the garlicky yogurt salad dressing. That livened up affairs considerably, and eased my regret at not ordering the Cajun-spiced beef burger topped with grilled red onions, bacon and papperjack cheese ($14). The puffed quinoa salad on the side was admirably light.
A scallops Florentine pasta ($22) was a bowl of linguine tossed with ample scallops, spinach and peppers, covered in mozzarella and broiled until the top browned. It was a success, firm, garlicky pasta that was enjoyably rambunctious after all that quinoa. Santa Fe Dirty Rice ($17) was an eye-catching bowl of cheesy rice and Mexican-spiced chicken ringed with fried flour tortilla points. The rice, properly firm-grained, lit with an appropriate lick of chile heat, and topped with cheddar and Monterey Jack, was scooped onto the fried tortillas and devoured like dinner nachos.
Desserts ($7), not made in-house, included a brulee cheesecake that was fine except for the lack of bruleeing, and a peanut butter pie whose filling was almost as thick as fudge, which is not a complaint.
My meal was satisfying but not particularly remarkable, except for those salads. I will remember them on the nights when I want to eat a solid assortment of greenery and accoutrements. I’d drive to the Poppyseed for those alone. It’s easier to find steak than destination salads.
The Poppyseed - 7
Even meat-and-potatoes guys will enjoy Poppyseed’s hearty entree salads.
WHERE: 3670 McKinley Parkway, Blasdell (824-0075, thepoppyseedrestaurant.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $3-$12; sandwiches, $9-$13, salads, $12-$15, entrees, $17-22.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.