A Caesar salad, fries and a martini is the perfect meal

A Caesar salad, fries and a martini is the perfect meal

A Caesar salad, fries and a martini is the perfect meal

At a recent happy hour for the Food team, someone proposed a fun icebreaker-type exercise: If you were opening a restaurant that served only one food and one beverage, what would they be?

My answer was unhesitating, even though I had never contemplated such a query before. My joint would serve french fries and martinis. I even came up with a name, on the spot, for my imaginary, probably-destined-for-failure establishment — Dirty Potato. If I had been allowed, though, a second food item on the menu (that wasn’t the assignment, of course), I would have said Caesar salads.

For me, a Caesar salad, fries and an ice-cold martini is truly the greatest of triumvirates. (Neapolitan ice cream? Not even close. The Supremes? Sorry, ladies.)

And so when I recently started spying my beloved combo meal flash across my social-media feeds anew, I felt … validated. Seen. But mostly, hungry.

“You’re not sad, you just need a Caesar salad, side of fries, and a dry martini,” reads a post shared on Instagram by Cape Cod restaurant Navillus that I’ve seen quoted more than once this week. Some TikTokers have dubbed it the “NYC happy meal,” others the “holy Trinity.”

Examples differ in the specifications on the cocktail: Some highlight a dry martini while others stipulate a dirty one. I’ll allow both. I’m iffy on a “pink” version that some extol. But definitely not okay are those claiming that an espresso martini deserves a seat at this hallowed table; they are wrong.

To me, the beauty of this trio is in the alchemy of textures and temperatures. Icy drink; crisp, hot fries; cool greens with a soft crunch. The meal might feel rich (thanks to the potatoes and the creamy dressing), but the punchy notes of anchovy and the boozy tang of the cocktail cut through it.

I love that it feels less like a traditional, protein-and-sides meal. It’s snacky. There’s a cobbled-together vibe — I’ve yet to encounter a restaurant that offers the salad and fries together, and so instead you’re probably ordering from different sections of the menu. That’s probably what has given it a place among the posts celebrating “girl dinners,” the phenomenon born last year where women shared their scavenged meals — sometimes, aesthetically pleasing, charcuterie-adjacent ones, and other times, aggressively gross amalgams.

Another thing the CFM has going for it is ubiquity. “You can get pretty much find it all the time,” says Joey Scalabrino, the co-owner and chef of Leo pizzeria in Brooklyn, whose Caesar salad routinely makes best-of lists. “Obviously you’ll have a spectrum of better versions and less-good versions, right? But there’s something comforting about that.”

Especially when it comes to the Caesar — when it’s good, it’s great. Leo’s thoughtful version adds radicchio to the romaine lettuce for bitterness, and toasted breadcrumbs take the place of unwieldy croutons. But you can find reasonable iterations at even the most humble restaurants.

The combo also has the benefit of being relatively inexpensive, compared to a typical entree or even a couple of appetizers. Which is not nothing, especially these days, when restaurant tabs are creeping ever higher and can make even a casual bar meal feel like a splurge.

The Big Three can feel celebratory, something you might indulge in after hitting a deadline at work. Or it can inject a little fun into the mundane. (I highly recommend it as a preflight meal.)

So the only question about this elite pairing is not whether it is worth trying. No, we’re left to contemplate which suits the endeavor best: a dirty martini or a dry one? Scalabrino suggests a drier version with a twist of lemon — “it’s citrus-forward for a little contrast.” I tried his suggestion and liked it, but I’m sticking with my brine-laced usual order. Yes, that means a triple dose of saltiness from each element of the meal, but I think, like the famous rug from “The Big Lebowski,” it really ties the room together.

Of course there’s nothing revolutionary about a Caesar, fries and a martini; the salad and the cocktail have each been around for more than a century, and the Belgians started frying potatoes in the 1600s. But sometimes a social media trend has a way of capturing A Perfect Little Thing — and that’s worth sharing.