Construct your own tower of culinary delights

This tomato tower features an arugula base and tuna salad with chives and red onion. BY JACK CLEMONS
September 10, 2012

Have you ever eaten a restaurant dish you enjoyed so much you wanted to try it at home? That’s happened to me a number of times, most recently at Cloud 9 in Rehoboth Beach. Although it’s been on Rehoboth Avenue for almost 20 years, it was only this summer we tried the place for the first time. And we returned a few weeks later so Jack could order the appetizer I’d fallen in love with: the tomato tower.

The concept was clever and the execution delicious. Start with thick rounds of perfectly ripe beefsteak tomatoes and alternate them with layers of creamy crab salad. Add slender slivers of avocado, set the tower on a bed of spring mix and drizzle the monument with balsamic reduction. Although served as a starter, this would be more than enough for a light lunch.

Ingredients for a tower
Thickly sliced tomatoes
Grilled eggplant rounds
Roasted red pepper
Sliced zucchini
Steamed summer squash

Soft cheese slices (mozzarella, chevre, brie, boursin)
Salad (egg, crab, tuna, lobster, salmon, chicken)

Balsamic reduction
Red wine vinaigrette

Salad base
Baby spinach
Spring mix

How to build a tower
Place a handful of greens on each salad plate. Place the first (largest) brick slice on the greens. Spread salad or cheese over the brick.
Top with second brick. Spread with salad or cheese. Top with final brick. Add a dollop of salad or small bit of cheese. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with greens.

Now that we’d been introduced to the tower concept, we started to notice variations at other restaurants. Striper Bites in Lewes uses grilled squash, tomatoes and asiago cheese with a base of sourdough toast spread with garlicky pesto. Vegetarian-friendly Planet X has another version served warm: layers of eggplant and boursin cheese covered with puttanesca sauce and shaved Parmesan. Even the traditional caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella and basil) is a deconstructed approach, spread across the plate instead of stacked.

By now, we could see there was really only one way to build the tomato tower: vegetable (fresh or grilled) as the brick and soft filling (cheese or mayonnaise-based salad) as the mortar. The tower is a dish that can be assembled with a wide range of ingredients. Tomato slices offer a sturdy platform, while grilled eggplant and squash are softer. Crab salad could be replaced by chicken, egg or another seafood salad – shrimp or lobster, for example. Cheese options need to be soft, like chevre or bleu. As for the dressing, a drizzle of any tangy vinaigrette would add the right note.

For our at-home experiment, we went with tuna salad. White albacore chunks were dressed with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. We stirred in snipped chives, diced red onion and lots of fresh-ground pepper. As you can see in the photo, a bed of spicy arugula was a colorful plating option. The key to success is to balance the tastes and mouth feel to include the right combination of sharp and sweet flavors with crisp and soft texture.

Since I usually offer recipes at the end of this column, I thought I would try something different this time.

I’ll list the alternatives for each component of the tower and give you the chance to build your own. If you need inspiration, have dinner at Cloud 9 and try theirs.


In a recent article about the Historic Lewes Farmers Market Tomato Festival Recipe Contest, the name of the third-place winner was misspelled.

Please accept my apologies for the error and be sure to congratulate Laura Jarman Byrum for her winning cake recipe.