Illustration by Matt Lehman
Was it an idea before its time? Probably. The Lettuce Leaf concept was salad entrées, with each salad showcased in a covered chill case that diners passed before entering the dining room. Health food never looked so alluring. It was the brainchild of professor Bill Saigh and his wife, Christine.
At the first site, where The Crossing in Clayton is now, a skylight and lots of green plants made it feel airy. Plenty of business types met there for lunch, but in the evenings and on weekends, the atmosphere became leisurely. Something, maybe the romaine or croutons, seemed to encourage long, pleasant conversations.
Years before it became ubiquitous, the taco salad at The Lettuce Leaf was perfect. There was none of this stale flour tortilla–bowl stuff; instead, there were corn tortilla chips rimming the bowl to give diners pile-your-own-nacho possibilities. And the softball-sized rolls were always fresh and crusty, as good as the salads.
Other locations soon sprouted up—in downtown, Crestwood, Chesterfield, Westport Plaza, and Kansas City—but the Saighs eventually sold the company. Not long after, lesser rolls appeared at the restaurant. It was a clear sign that the end was at hand.