The urban legend of Caioti Pizza Cafe’s “labor salad” is going strong after more than 25 years. The rather simple dish of romaine, watercress, walnuts, gorgonzola and house-made vinaigrette is said to have helped untold expectant mothers go in to labor. And while it may sound like the B-story in an episode of Friends, scroll through the geotag on Instagram and you’ll find a stream of pregnant-bellied women sampling the salad with captions that read, “Praying this works!”
Women have reported going into labor three days to as little as four hours after consuming the salad, but of course it could all be a coincidence. These women were all in the realm of 40 weeks pregnant. For those not privy to the prenatal world, 40 weeks is the benchmark for a full-term pregnancy.
Though the 30-year-old restaurant has never officially claimed that the salad can help the process along, believers say the secret is in the dressing — a balsamic vinaigrette made with basil, sun-dried tomato, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and a mix of spices the owners keep under wraps. Those desperate to give birth reportedly take shots of the stuff. It used to be offered by the bottle until the health department caught wind; however, it can be legally sold in a plastic to-go container.
“The salad has a long history on its own. We did not invent this or come up with this — our customers did,” says Caioti owner Carrie LaDou. “A customer that was past due walked in about 27 years ago, I’m guessing, and she had contractions while she was still there and told all her girlfriends. One of their husbands was a producer on a late-night entertainment news show and it just grew from there.
“When we asked my doctor what the deal was [with the dressing], why does it work for so many people, he said it’s the enzymes in the balsamic. It’s the chemistry that can cause muscle contractions, so that’s a possible thing.
“It’s its own creation and has its own legs. And every day we enjoy meeting all the pregnant ladies,” she adds.
A rack of baby journals hangs on the right-hand wall containing entries from moms-to-be. In June 2016, one woman wrote that the salad worked for her back in 2012, so she returned for her second birth. Another entry from 2014 begins with “I’m here! Let’s do this!” There are hundreds of these.
LaDou says the journals began about a decade ago after she noticed pregnant ladies in the cafe talking to one another.
“We wanted to bring that as full-circle as we could. Some people come back after they’ve had their baby and they write in the journal about if it worked. That’s also something — we run out of journals. It’s like we’re kind of working for the salad,” LaDou says.
Inducing labor isn’t the only reason to grab a meal at Caioti’s. The “THE” Salad, as it’s called on the menu, actually isn’t the best dish here. The pizza is solid, with unique spins such as spicy bison, or a breakfast pie with hash browns and cream cheese, which makes sense given that the restaurant’s founder, Ed LaDou, was the first pizza chef at Spago and created the menu for the first California Pizza Kitchen. He's also said to be the originator of the barbecue chicken pizza.
“A lot of people know us because of the history of the chef, so a lot of foodies know us for our pizza,” Carrie LaDou says. “If you’re a foodie from the '80s or '90s, you know about our cafe. We have two identities that kind of happened organically. We’re known for pizza and we're also known for the salad.”
They also do a killer garlic knot. As at any respectable pan-European restaurant from the '80s, the soft and buttery rolls with golden-brown crusts are immediately brought to the table, and according to LaDou, customers can get hostile over them.
“We run out of garlic knots. They’re free and people can be rude about getting them. Last night one of my servers called me and said, ‘There’s a guy who's threatening me for garlic knots.’ [The customer] said he just got out of jail and he’s going to get pissed if he doesn’t get those garlic knots right now.”