Lunch for $10 or less: Nalley Fresh

A salad with pulled chicken and vegetables at Nalley Fresh, a make-it-yourself cafe on the corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets.
A salad with pulled chicken and vegetables at Nalley Fresh, a make-it-yourself cafe on the corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets. (Richard Gorelick, Baltimore Sun photo)

Remember salads? You hardly ever see a good salad place open up these days. But I had a good one at Nalley Fresh — shredded chicken on a bed of spinach, with chickpeas, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers and a giardiniera (pickled vegetables), some mozzarella and a basil Dijon vinaigrette.

Nalley Fresh opened in March, and it's become a neighborhood favorite for the downtown office crowd, who line up to create their own rice bowls ($5.75), burrito wraps ($7.50) and salads ($8.30). Those prices include the addition of a basic protein, vegetables, homemade dressings and cheeses. You pick them out, and a counter crew prepares it.

Sound easy? It's not. Well, not the first time. The interface at Nalley Fresh can be confusing. You can add eight toppings to a salad, but it's hard to see all of your options before you start picking them out. It's really only a problem on your first visit, and the Nalley gang has learned to look out for customers with that deer-in-the-headlights stare — "First time?"

It's a good idea to go with a veteran on an initial visit. Or check out the Nalley Fresh website, where all of the options are laid out more coherently, or put in your lunch order in advance.

There's an upside to the helter-skelter at Nalley Fresh. It keeps the independently owned eatery from feeling corporate. The owner here is Greg Nalley, who gained a fan club at the Harvest Table, his Locust Point restaurant. Nalley Fresh seems to keeping the downtown lunch crowd happy and healthy. If you're starting a fitness regimen, or trying to keep to one, Nalley Fresh would help you to keep to it.

Nalley Fresh now serves a build-your-own healthful breakfast, too.

Other assets at Nalley Fresh include homemade frozen yogurt and outdoor tables, which are so popular that interlopers from other restaurants will sometimes commandeer them. There is indoor seating, but it's the kind where you end up feeling like you're in everyone else's way.

True, $8.30 sounds a little high for a salad, and there's a surcharge for some proteins, like shredded chicken ($1), jerk pork ($1) or grilled salmon ($3). But my salad lasted me two meals.

The downtown location has been such a hit that Nalley has decided to open a second location. Come September, Nalley Fresh will be opening on Schilling Circle in Hunt Valley. The new location will have seating for 70, Nalley said.

Nalley Fresh

Where: 120 E. Baltimore St., downtown

Contact: 443-220-0282,

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11 p.m.-4 p.m. for lunch, Monday-Friday

Lunch entrees: $5.75-$8.30