Salads can tell you a lot about a restaurant. Places that are content to sell you bagged salad mix with sliced vegetables and dressing poured from a jug their supplier dropped off are less likely to pay attention to finer points elsewhere on the menu.

Then there are efforts like the grilled portobello mushroom salad at the Hollow Bistro & Brew (10641 Main St., Clarence). It starts with a mix of salad greens, but that’s where the least-common-denominator approach ends.

Executive Chef Luigi Alfano makes sure the salad’s other components – grilled mushrooms, balsamic honey dressing, red onion jam – are made in-house. The smoky, almost meaty, texture of the mushrooms helps the salad satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Customers notice his efforts. “What sells it is the dressing,” Alfano said. “I make all of my own dressings from scratch, and that salad gets the honey balsamic.”

He starts with balsamic vinegar, adds a “decent amount of wildflower honey and the rest of the ingredients,” then turns the blender up all the way, and drizzles in oil, a vegetable-olive oil blend. “I emulsify it, and get it nice and thick, almost to a pudding,” Alfano said.

Another house-made touch is red onion marmalade, which Alfano starts with a large sauté pan filled with thinly sliced red onions. “I get it into a hot pan and sauté it until the onions get to a translucent stage, then I hit it with balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and salt and pepper,” he said. “I put it in the oven for a while and forget about it, until the onions have absorbed some of that juice. Then I’ll put it on top of the stove and cook it down some more, then let it cool down.”

“I use field greens, mesclun mix, and then toss them in the dressing,” he said. “It gets crumbled blue cheese, and the red onion marmalade.”

It’s $9.50, on both lunch and dinner menus. “The vegetarians like it,” he said. “The vegans don’t, because I have the honey in it, but I can make it without the honey dressing if they want.”

For info, call 759-7351 or visit


Foodie Find:

Vegfest. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Marcy Casino, Delaware Park. Speakers, exhibitors and what might be the year’s wildest spread of vegan food. Entrees $6-$9. For information: