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Chopped good, but pricey

"Chopped" - Kitchen manager at Chopped, Albert Motta, mixes salads by throwing them in the air. The restaurant serves a variety of healthy greens and sandwiches to people with a proper budget.
By Elizabeth Thompson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 14, 2005
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Salads are one of the easiest meals to make at home.

So why go out to eat for one?

Because of Chopped, located between North Tucson Boulevard and North Country Club Road on East Speedway Boulevard.

And while it's not necessarily geared toward nearby college students, the restaurant definitely caters to locals with a lack of fresh vegetables in their diets.

Customers entering Chopped are met with a stack of ordering cards that list the myriad of salad possibilities available, with an assembly line displayed behind glass where chopping can be marveled at by the naked eye.

You can mark down your choice of lettuce, five salad "choppings," and dressing all to be included in a set price of $5.95. Extra ingredients are 50 cents and grilled chicken, tofu, ham and other protein is added for $1.50.

With more than 40 choices of choppings, ranging from caramelized walnuts to jalapenos, and 20 eyebrow-raising dressing varieties including "honey poppy seed fruit" and "cilantro," we stared dumbly at our order cards, needing some time to make up our minds. While we decided on a spinach salad with feta cheese vinaigrette, artichoke hearts, red onions, cucumbers, croutons and grilled chicken, we also inadvertently caused an embarrassing traffic pileup of people trying to get around us for their own cards.

Indecisive diners should pull up a seat and then turn their orders in, lest receiving the same looks from diners they give snowbirds who drive 15 mph under the speed limit.

First, we marveled over how quickly our salad came after picking out a table, next we marveled at how the proportion of choppings in the salad made for a perfect ratio in every bite, and then we marveled over how cool the salad bowl was.

What we didn't marvel at, though, was the unfortunate choice of artwork on the walls. It may be a nitpicky detail, but the paintings around the room of vegetables doing kooky things (drinking salad dressing at a 'salad bar!') offered a hokey touch to the otherwise flowing, modern décor of rich colored walls and chrome-lined ceiling fans.

Besides salads, the Chopped menu also offers a variety of Paninis, grilled Italian sandwiches, and other straight-up sandwiches like tuna salad and roast beef. After our salad, which was more than plenty for two, we sampled the Avocado Club Panini ($6.50), which came with turkey, cream cheese, peppered bacon, avocado and sprouts. While we were wary of bacon coming into contact with cream cheese and turkey, the meat was perfectly cooked and stole the show. Red onion or a slice of fresh tomato might have added the perfect amount of punch to the otherwise bland sandwich.

We finished off the meal with a huge Chocolate Chunk Cookie ($1.25) and a smallish-sized, triangular lemon bar ($1.25). While the cookie tasted homemade, it was a little too overcooked and not quite chewy enough for our tastes. The lemon bar, however, did not disappoint. It too, tasted homemade and held a perfectly symmetrical flavor of tangy sweetness.

The price is where Chopped's nutrient-centered perfection weakens for the college student. A salad from Chopped with protein included, and a drink, can cost upward of $9. The salads, though, are more than enough for two people. And, with enough self-convincing, stingy Chopped diners could tell themselves they were receiving enough servings of vegetables to last them for a few days.

In the long run, it's really just a salad. But it's the idea of letting a customer choose that gives Chopped its strength. It's the concept of it all, the ability to pick from the menu's extensive ingredients, the ability to decide if you're going to linger at your table or be in and out in 20 minutes, that makes Chopped worth checking out.

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