Pink Velvet Salad And An Ode To Covered Dish and Cafeteria Salads

Thinking about dishes that aren’t very often found on menus, and remembered the Pink Velvet Salad at the Crystal Grill in Greenwood, Mississippi. There’s an asterisk by it, that it’s only available in season, and I’m not certain the exact recipe (there’s not even a description of what it’s made of on the menu), though it’s likely some combination of whipped cream, cherry, pineapple, and sweetened condensed milk. Oftentimes, pink velvet includes chopped pecans, too. At the Crystal Grill, it’s served alongside fresh fruit and chicken salad sandwich over lettuce leaf.

Crystal Grill, Greenwood MS

I have some great stories about this place. Once, we went after High Holiday services at Ahavath Rayim here for lunch with Joe Erber, the subject of this terrific Bill Aron photograph (that’s Joe, on the left, in his USPS cap). I sat separate in services from Av because it’s traditionally an Orthodox synagogue, but was told very sweetly that I totally didn’t have to do that. Can’t even say all the wonderful things about Greenwood; we’re among those who have been invited to the “holy garage”, hung out with Murray Kornfeld at his shop there, got to know the Greenbergs and matriarch Ilse who escaped after Kristallnacht to Shanghai.

Ahavath Rayim, Greenwood MS
Ahavath Rayim — I took this pic in 2016

I’ll say we’ve been to towns where the people were more reserved and to towns where everybody wanted to take us home, and Greenwood is one of those places where we’ve felt just roundly loved.

The placemats at Crystal Grill include the Jewish blessing for food in English along with Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christianity:

Crystal Grill, Greenwood MS

The last time we were at the Crystal Grill, we heard someone speaking Hebrew and made all sorts of connections. I mean it’s just the craziest, most wonderful thing.

Anyway, switching back to food for a sec, the boys love their pies — that’s what they’re famous for…chocolate meringue, coconut meringue…

Chocolate Meringue Pie, Crystal Grill, Greenwood MS

Coconut Meringue Pie at the Crystal Grill, Greenville MS

Those great little salads like the pink velvet make me think of all these other little salads — granny salads! — just presh. When I was little, we’d go to Morrison’s where it seemed there was just a world of little cube-shaped gelatin jewels in low-slung bowls, creamy cold concoctions…sweet domes of Cool Whip-based salads cradled in lettuce leaf. If Morrison’s had been Jewish, I know there would have been gefilte fish on lettuce leaf with carrot coin atop right there at the beginning of the line.  It would have been placed right next to those half pears stuffed with cottage cheese and the sweet maraschino cherry.

Pear Salad at Matthews Cafeteria, Tucker GA

how they do the pear salad at Matthew’s Cafeteria in Tucker, Georgia

Carrot salad (you know they love you if it’s golden raisins!)! Seven layer salad (can you even have a family reunion without someone bringing their prized gigantic glass bowl of 7-layer?)! Glorious pasta salads with olives…maybe giardiniera! English pea salad! Those stalwarts: coleslaw and potato salad! Shrimp salad with the tiniest shrimp ever! Marinated mushroom salad! Waldorf! Ambrosia! Cornbread salad! Deviled eggs! Curried chicken salad, or the plain one with almonds! Macaroni salad! Grape salad! Egg salad! Broccoli salad! Pimento cheese with crackers! Peach salad with cottage cheese! Pineapple cheese salad! The queen of all congealed salads, tomato aspic with side of mayonnaise!

Honey from the Rock Cafe, Augusta GA

Honey from the Rock Cafe in Augusta, Georgia

At this point I’m either Bubba from Forrest Gump or Rain Man about sweet little salads. I can do this all day.

Aspic, The Colonnade, Atlanta GA

Aspic at The Colonnade in Atlanta

And then how can you go through a line of these and then say to yourself, ah, I’ll have the little garden salad with the two little teardrop tomatoes on the side and the three thin rings of purple onion? No, you literally need to go back to the start of the line and get something that started with gelatin or whipped cream, or both. haha! xoxo!

Kraut & Weiners, Pell City Steakhouse, Pell City AL

Peach salad at Pell City Steakhouse, Pell City AL (sidenote: the person who did their website did not capture the absolute perfection of the ’70s vibe that is Pell City Steakhouse, but you know, stock images, sooooo. Saying this so you’ll know it is not steak-on-plank, it is glorious Fred Flintstone-colored melamine plates and a rack by the register that still has a CERTS and Clorets sign on it. )

Pell City Steak House, Pell City AL

Beloved Pell City Steakhouse

BTW, there’s still one Morrison’s in the world, the one in Mobile. They’re actually owned by Piccadilly but I think in deference, they’ve let this one location stay with the old name. I remember in the ’90s when a friend and I decided we were going to go to USA (the University of South Alabama) and I was going to be a teacher (haaaa — changed my major maybe ten times (and colleges) after that) we actually comforted each other that no matter what, we wouldn’t starve because after all, Mobile had a Morrison’s.

S&S Cafeteria, Knoxville TN

S&S Cafeteria, Knoxville TN

There are a couple of salads that are my go-to for a covered dish event if I’ve needed to bring something cold. Not everyone makes these. I think if you talk with someone from certain areas of the Midwest, they’ll tell you that strawberry pretzel salad is their invention. No idea. But the weird thing is, my hometown of Cullman and this area of north/central Alabama has such a fondness for this dish that it can be found in grocery deli cases made by the store kitchen, and some restaurants have it too.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad at grocery store

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Ah yes, the 9×13 glass pan: strawberry pretzel salad

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

hi, gorgeous.

Truly, it can go either way. Is it a salad? Yes. Is it a dessert? Also yes.

Now pineapple delight, I had to go through a relationship to get this recipe. I dated a boy whose mother made this and the relationship was not worth it on its own but this pineapple delight is the weirdest kind of consolation gift that kinda makes up for it.

Pineapple Cup

The boy wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t marriage material. I was in college and we worked at the same place, so potential for awkward was set at 100%. I felt like maybe our conversations could have started with what we read in The New Yorker or Harpers or The Atlantic at little more and Bassmaster Magazine a little less. That new Humminbird Fish Finder is sweeeeeet but did you hear about…

Lotus on Tennessee River 1996

having a boyfriend in college who had his own boat was pretty cool; my photography was bad but I just passed it off to myself as artsy. 

I’m sure I’ve told this story here before somewhere, but for our first date, he took me to a restaurant at a stockyard and I thought: this boy either REALLY gets me (because I love experiences and this was a cool surprise) or did he not know that first-date boilerplate in north Alabama at the time was trying to get into either Red Lobster or Olive Garden?

How can you start a relationship in Decatur, Alabama circa mid-90s without experiencing the sacrifice of only eating *one* Cheddar Bay biscuit so you don’t look like you have no self-control?

…If it goes well, maybe we’ll still be a couple when Lobsterfest comes back around…

The pineapple delight recipe was worth it, though.