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Sweet Tomatoes (restaurant review)

Well, now that we’re over the turkey/stuffing/cranberry coma of last week, time to get ready for the next big eating holiday–Christmas. I’m going to try to steer clear of as much of the bad stuff as I can, but have a little bit and enjoy some, too.

Those of you who know me in person know that while I can appreciate fine, upscale dining, it’s not something we do every day. But when I do eat out, I want to eat something good, no matter where it is. Plus, I absolutely LOVE salad.

Not *all* restaurant reviews have to be high-dollar, pinky-in-the-air establishments, now do they?

Yesterday I headed to my doctor in The Woodlands, TX, a 50-mile drive from my front door. Long story as to why I see a doctor up there, but rest assured the drive and the expense are totally worth it. As I frequently do when I head to The Woodlands, whether to see the good doctor or to a concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, I make it a point to try and have a meal at Sweet Tomatoes, which is in the Woodlands Mall parking lot.

If there’s a Sweet Tomatoes nearby, and you’ve never been in it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Of course, you should really *like* salad if you go there. Not that they don’t have cooked food, because they do, but. . .it’s a wonderful salad assortment.

There are four locations in the Houston area, none of which are near me. With my luck, one will appear the minute I move to The Woodlands and they’ll close The Woodlands’ location in order to open up one in my current ‘hood. But no danger of me moving anytime soon.

So what’s the big deal about a soup & salad place?

It’s not like a plain old salad bar–in addition to freshly cut vegetables, beans, cooked pastas, chopped eggs, shredded cheese, different accoutrements and variant salad dressings, they also have seven different freshly made soups daily, baked things like focaccia, pizza, cornbread and biscuits, and a few nice baked desserts. There was also some sugar-free chocolate mousse, which I passed on, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Warning: the brownies and muffins are SQUARE. I dunno why, they just use a square muffin pan. I don’t ask why. Don’t be alarmed. If this concerns you, there is soft-serve yogurt in vanilla and chocolate, cone optional.

Just because I could, and there were some cracker-sized pieces, I had a couple of pieces of the focaccia and one little piece of the pizza. DELISH, especially when I dipped the focaccia in the Italian Minestrone Soup. I only had a little of that, too.

Something odd I just noticed on the online menu: their delicious chili is “Not in Texas.” Wondered why they didn’t have any yesterday. That’s interesting–they usually have some incarnation of either beef or turkey chili when I go, but I guess because nobody bought it or folks complained about the beans. I agree–no beans belong in a true chili. But it’s good, or it was the last time I had it.

They have some featured tossed salads every month, and yesterday it was a tasty apple and walnut concoction with dried cranberries. A regular favorite is Joan’s Broccoli Madness, which is cooked broccoli with some delicious dressing, raisins, dried cranberries and a little garlic. FABULOUS, and I make sure I have some every time I go.

And that’s why I passed on dessert yesterday. Who needs chocolate and/or cranberry muffins when there are apples and walnuts and raisins and dried cranberries in your salad?

A couple of years ago I went to see Chicago at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, and stopped in for some food before the concert at that same place. It was June, when Chicago seems to make it to Houston. It was the most incredible salad ever. I even called my brother to tell him about it. Why?

They put CHERRIES in my salad. YEAH!

The “salad du jour”, the month’s feature salad, much like the apple-walnut-cranberry number they had yesterday, had CHERRIES mixed in with the spinach and lettuce. I think there were walnuts or almonds involved, too.

I love cherries. It was SOOO GOOD. You don’t expect to bite into fresh cherries while eating salad, but it’s great when you do. I hope they bring it back in the summer so I can have it again. If I go up to The Woodlands. Or one of the other locations.

They always have something called “Wonton Chicken Salad,” which I don’t mess with because of the fried wontons; don’t know what’s in those. But on the online menu, it says, “Vegetarian in Tucson, AZ.”

Huh?

Someone explain to me how a chicken salad can be made vegetarian. I didn’t ask while I was there, I was too busy with the roasted garlic dressing and the sunflower seeds sprinkled over the top of the dressing. (That’s fantastic, BTW.)

The design of the Sweet Tomatoes restaurant is clean, with subtle colors, and a carpet patterned with. . .tomatoes. No kidding. I didn’t think to take pictures, but their carpet has a tomato print. Well, what do you expect, plain Berber?

The dining area is simple, with tables and booths and open areas where the food is. (The Woodlands’ location seems to have lots of employees buzzing¬† around and picking up used dishes when you’re not looking. Then again, it wasn’t crowded when I went, either.)¬† Clean dishes and utensils are stacked everywhere, so you never have to go looking for them. In addition to soft drinks (and my favorite–water) they also have coffee. I’ve never gotten around to actually having their coffee because I’m too interested in the salad bar, or a bit from the bakery.

Really, if you have one nearby, and enjoy the soup and salad thing, go have some. It’s fresh, it’s tasty, and all those veggies are good for you, you know. Eat what you know, and maybe try something new on a small plate. At Sweet Tomatoes, it’s all good (at least, every time I’ve ever been there.)

Happy Dining!

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