Dirt Candy’s tagline is “Leave The Vegetables to the Professionals.” And to be sure, chef & owner Amanda Cohen has done wonders to change the way the restaurant industry looks at meat — seriously, how many “vegetable-focused” concepts have you seen debut over the last few years?
It’s Cohen’s proven ability to manipulate produce in all sorts of unexpected, entrée-worthy ways that has led directly from her recent expansion, moving from a nine-table shoebox on East 9th St, to a comparatively palatial space (complete with giddily bedazzled sequined signage) over on Allen, with chic, white faux leather seats filled to maximum capacity on a daily basis. With an expansive, open kitchen, a chef’s counter, and 56 veggie loving diners at a time at her disposal, it’s given Cohen carte blanche to really stretch her legs with the menu. She’s brought on a bartender and a pastry chef, and moving beyond staples, like Jalapeno Hushpuppies and Broccoli Hot Dogs (although not to worry, they’re both still available for the ordering).
So to accompany tipples, like Margaritas made with yellow peppers, or Kentucky Lemonade stained scarlet with beet juice, Cohen’s started sending out flowerpots, blooming with multi-colored Brioche, flavored with tomato, spinach and pumpkin. And while they’re advertised on supersized menus, printed with massive, exuberant font items don’t need a whole lot of help in order to pop off a page — Curried Fries are bombed to brilliant effect with fresh paneer cheese, kale finds its way into flamboyantly green Matzoh Ball Soup, instead of the omnipresent salad, and who but Cohen would think to compose a dish entirely out of Radishes, formed into ravioli, shaved into spaghetti, and dressed with radish greens pesto and pungent strains of horseradish?
She’s also doubled down with a duo of large format options, including Brussels Sprouts Tacos, which quickly became an Instagram sensation. The do-it-yourself dish features a slew of quartered baby cabbages, which arrive well caramelized and sizzling on a marble slate, along with lettuce wraps, avocado, pickled onions, salsa verde, tortilla strips and cotija cheese, making it awfully hard to miss the meat. And a newer, summer-only addition, the Corn Boil is worth ordering if only for the bourbon-spiked corn shakes, puddles of wobbly corn pudding, and spears of baby corn tempura served with murky huitlacoche sauce — although it largely proves to clever for its own good — an assortment of under seasoned corn cobs, in-the-pod fava beans, feathery hominy and boiled peanuts definitely left us longing for shellfish.
Since desserts don’t generally rely on animal flesh, it would have been easy, in this instance at least, for the Dirt Candy team to play it safe. But plain vanilla types should
know that there’s celery in the cheesecake, carrot in the meringue, onion in the chocolate tart, and yes, a whole garden’s worth of vegetables in the ice cream as well. We’re talking lettuce, cucumber, yellow beets and even grilled radicchio, paved with dill sprinkles; a virtuous tossed salad in sundae form. While we have to admit, the sundae’s not nearly as fun as it sounds on paper (in that loud, enthusiastic font), the rest of the rejuvenated menu is frequently downright exciting.