The legendary Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood was a celebrity hotspot in the twenties. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, movie stars would summon one another to dine at the upscale hat-shaped establishment, saying “Meet me at The Derby!”
Illustrious faces that passed through were captured as caricature drawings which were then adorned along the restaurant’s “Hollywood Wall of Fame.” And while the Brown Derby is particularly well known for these sketches and its star-studded clientele, it is perhaps most coveted for being the birthplace of the Cobb Salad.
In 1937, owner of the Brown Derby, Bob Cobb is said to have first created the Cobb Salad as a late-night snack. As recorded by the Brown Derby, one evening, Mr. Cobb raided his restaurant refrigerator and whipped together the now-famous salad with whatever he pulled out: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese, and French dressing. After chopping everything up, he completed his creation with some bacon that he swiped off of a busy chef.
On his website, http://www.thefoodmaven.com/, culinary connoisseur, Arthur Schwartz informatively describes the story of how the Cobb Salad first came to be. In the article, he writes, “It is most often the dish you slap-dash together out of desperate necessity (and usually leftovers) that is the biggest triumph.” So true!
Quoting the Brown Derby’s records, Scwartz shares its instant rise to fame. Apparently, Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was with Cobb the night he created the salad. It was so good that he ordered it the next day, and it was soon put on the menu. Cobb Salad became an instant hit at the Brown Derby, requested by the likes of Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Actor, William Holden orders one in this episode of I Love Lucy:
Since it was first put on the menu, the Brown Derby Restaurant Group has reportedly sold more than 4 million Cobb Salads! The two original Hollywood locations have since closed, but sold their name to Disney, who opened a recreation at their Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando. Disney later signed an agreement to open one in all their locations.
The Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney is where I had my first authentic Cobb Salad. From the celebrity caricatures surrounding the restaurant to the original recipes of signature dishes, Disney—as with anything—brings you as close to the real Brown Derby as you could ever get.
Like Cobb, I made my version of the salad with whatever I had in my refrigerator: grape tomatoes, feta cheese, iceberg lettuce, slab bacon, and eggs. I skipped out on a lot of the original ingredients, but the dressing recipe which I acquired from Schwartz’s website, is really what made it taste authentic.
Now that I’m famous, I might as well eat like it. JUST kidding! Here are the original recipes for the Brown Derby Cobb Salad and dressing, so that we can all eat like stars!
The Brown Derby Original Cobb Salad and Dressing:
- ½ head lettuce, about 4 cups
- 1 bunch watercress
- 1 small bunch chicory, about 2 ½ cups
- ½ head romaine, about 2 ½ cups
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled
- 6 strips of crisp bacon
- 2 breasts of boiled chicken
- 2 hard cooked eggs
- 1 avocado
- ½ cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
- 2 tablspoons chopped chives
- About 1 cup Cobb Salad dressing
• Cut lettuce, half the watercress, chicory and romaine in fine pieces and arrange in a large salad bowl.
• Cut tomatoes, bacon, chicken, eggs, and avocado in small pieces and arrange, along with the crumbled Roquefort cheese, in strips on the greens.
• Sprinkle finely cut chives over the Cobb salad and garnish with the remaining watercress.
• Just before serving, mix the salad with the Cobb salad dressing.
Dressing: (makes 1 ½ cups)
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon dry English mustard
- 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ cup full flavored olive oil
- ¾ cups salad oil
• Blend all ingredients together, except oils. Add olive and salad oils. Mix well.
** A note from the Brown Derby: "The water is optional, depending upon the degree of oiliness desired in the dressing."