Caesar Salad and Pizza: A Match Made in Heaven

Tuesday Aug 16, 2016

Hailed (get it?) as one of the greatest recipes to originate in the Americas, the Caesar salad is the perfect companion to any pizza. As with many other crave-worthy cuisines, the Caesar salad is stunningly delicious in its simplicity, with origins that are surrounded in mystery. However, I've attempted to at least put together the who, where, why, what, and more of the history of Caesar salad.

The Who

The invention of the eponymous salad is attributed to Caesar Cardini. Born in Italy, Caesar and his brother Alex relocated to the US and settled in San Diego after World War I. The legend goes that the salad was created during an extremely busy weekend at Caesar's Tijuana restaurant.

The Where

Although the Cardinis lived in San Diego, their restaurant was in Tijuana. This was in the 1920s during prohibition, so people often made the short trip across the Mexican border to party, making Caesar's restaurant a popular hangout.

The Why

The legend goes like this: it was busy and Caesar found himself short on supplies. Like any respectable restauranteur, he didn't want to turn away customers, so he concocted a salad with ingredients he had on hand. To make it special, he prepared the salad tableside. The salad quickly became popular — especially with the Hollywood crowd — and soon patrons flocked to the restaurant just for the salad.

The What

Romaine lettuce, garlic cloves, coddled eggs, parmesan cheese, key limes, and croutons.

The Controversy

At the end of a long night of drinking, a crowd of Air Force pilots from Rockwell Field found themselves at Caesar's, and brother Alex made them a salad that we now know as the Caesar Salad. He named it the Aviator Salad after his buddies, but as the salad's popularity increased, it was renamed the Caesar Salad.

A partner of the Cardinis, Paul Maggiora, also claims to have tossed the first salad in 1927 for American pilots from San Diego, and he also named it Aviator's Salad. To make matters even more confusing, Livio Santini recalls that he used a recipe of his mother's to make the salad at Caesar's Place. It was only when the salad proved so popular, that Caesar claimed the recipe as his own.

Honorable Mentions

This micro-history of the Caesar salad wouldn't be complete without a few honorable mentions. Julia Child reportedly dined at Caesar's restaurant as a child and watched the salad being made by Caesar himself. She later contacted Caesar's daughter Rosa to obtain the original recipe for one of her books. Julia described the original presentation with the romaine leaves left whole to be used as scoops for the dressing. The salad was meant to be eaten with the fingers, so the leaves were placed on the plate with the tips in and the stems out for easy grabbing.

The honor of popularizing the Caesar salad in Europe goes to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. The then Mrs. Simpson often visited San Diego and Tijuana in the 1920s. Mrs. Simpson enjoyed the salad so much that she introduced it to many of the great European restaurants by instructing international chefs as they labored to recreate the dressing.

Since then, the salad has increased in popularity and permutated into versions topped with chicken, shrimp, or beef. The Kale Caesar salad is a variation now featured on many a salad menu.

However, the simple classic that has become America's favorite salad is a perfect accompaniment to your pie. Caesar salad and pizza go hand-in-hand to create a crowd-pleasing group dining experience.