Howard: I last ate at Dirt Candy almost exactly a year ago, shortly after they had opened. I enjoyed my meal quite a bit, particularly the grits. When I expressed interest in going back, Donny surprised me by saying he wanted to go as well. Donny, eater of chicken feet and pig’s tongue, wanted to eat at a vegetarian restaurant? He most certainly did.
Donny: I love how people think I’m just about eating meat meat meat. Oh no no no no no its not true at all. I used to order the fake chicken curry from VP2 many many times, it was soooo good. And I love to make my miso stew! It has corn, peas, carrots, daikon, and onion and serve it over some steamed rice. Hhmm……. But yes on most days I eat meat.
I knew Howard was thinking of going to Dirt Candy again. I remember him saying it was delicious and totally not what you think vegetarian food to be like. Then what totally got me into going to Dirt Candy was Village Voice voting them to have THE BEST grits in NYC. I love grits so I was pretty much sold. SOLD I SAY!
H: The restaurant was packed, but this time I’d remembered to make a reservation. Donny wanted to eat a lot of food, so he ordered the jalapeno hush puppies ($6, pictured above), kimchi donuts, and the stone ground grits with tempura poached egg. Since I’d eaten (and loved) the grist before, I decided to find something else to order.
D: Dirt Candy was tiny. And was filled with pink lights, I’m not a fan of colored lights. But once we sat down the hospitality quickly won me over. The whole night everyone was nice and attentive. Howard told me that the lady that was serving us, was the owner and chef [Amanda Cohen]. Hello!
I really like places with a straightforward, just the right amount of dishes sort of menu. It’s great to give people 10 or 15 choices but I usually end up taking too long because I couldn’t decide. At Dirt Candy here’s 4 items for first course and 4 items for second course. Easy and straightforward.
H: The hush puppies were as good as I remembered. Not particularly spicy, but you could definitely taste the fresh jalapenos. And the maple butter was fantastic. After the hush puppies they brought us bread with olive oil. I think they intended to bring it to us before the appetizer, but because they brought it after we got to keep the maple butter (without us having to ask) to spread on the bread.
D: This whole meal might have been completely skewed by the fact that I didn’t eat anything that day and wasn’t feeling 100%. So when I say that the jalapeno hush puppies were AMAZING, that might’ve been my stomach saying DAMN YOU food finally! Yes those hush puppies were sooooo good. I wanted a little bit more hit from the jalapenos though and another plate full of these puppies.
A plate of house bread came after we were done with our hush puppies. I secretly wanted to save the maple butter for the bread but the waitress did it for us anyways! Thank you! The bread was okay, a bit on the tough to chew side.
H: I don’t usually order salads when I go out to eat, but I wanted something light and fresh. I was also intrigued by the candied grapefruit pops that came along with Dirt Candy’s mixed green salad ($12). The salad itself was delicious; perfectly dressed and seasoned, and the little bits of avocado added richness. The grapefruit pops were also great. They seem to be grapefruit wedges dipped in sugar syrup which is then allowed to solidify. This leaves you with a grapefruit wedge in a hard candy shell. It was fun, clever, and, most importantly, tasty. The grilled cheese croutons were basically mini grilled cheese sandwiches, which were quite good as well.
D: I got the kimchi doughnuts ($13) though in real life these tiny fried dough looked more like popcorn shrimp. It didn’t even look like doughnuts. I put one in my mouth but couldn’t taste any kimchi. I was kinda sad. But since it was a deep fried ball of thing, it was alright. The refreshing salad that came with the doughnuts was kicked ass though. Nice and light.
H: There was a noticeably long wait between our appetizers and our main courses. Not so long that it was a huge problem, but definitely out of the ordinary. Finally Amanda Cohen brought our food out to us and explained our dishes. My asparagus paella ($19) featured grilled asparagus, artichokes, and morel mushrooms, a tomato-saffron broth, and, of course, the rice. The pile of rice was topped by a sweet and spicy rice cake, to mimic the crunchy part at the bottom of paella. Amanda Cohen explained that when you break the rice cake into the broth “hopefully” we’d hear a snap, crackle and pop.
I did, in fact hear it. However, this dish made me think that the restaurant was trying just a bit too hard. I would have been much happier with a perfectly executed paella than a pile of rice (which was slightly over-cooked) topped with a rice cake (as delicious as that rice cake was). The grilled asparagus was phenomenal, though the artichokes and mushrooms didn’t pick up as much of the smoky grill flavor as the asparagus did.
D: It took a while before our entrees came. I think because the hush puppies, bread and appetizers came right after one another, it felt long before our entrees came. Yes, I came for the grits and tempura egg ($18). Tempura egg! How did they make it? The yolk was runny and was perfectly fried. The grits was topped with a sprinkle of cheese and sprouts. Also there were bits of corn in the grits too. I took a bite. And immediately I felt good. Just good. As I said before I wasn’t feeling too well but the grits was 100% exactly what I needed. It was total comfort food. I felt the chill that I had quickly left me as I filled my tummie with warm grits and egg. YUM!
H: I remain entranced by the concept of Dirt Candy. Why can’t more vegetarian restaurants follow their lead and make such gutsy, delicious food? I do think that maybe they need to reign themselves in a little bit, but when they make food as wonderful as the grits (Donny let me have a taste of his, and it was even better than I remembered — it’s as if someone liquefied comfort and put it on a plate) I can’t really complain. I only wish we’d had enough room for dessert.
D: I would definitely go back to Dirt Candy for the hush puppies and the grits. The space may be a bit small and a little too pink for me but it wasn’t too terrible. I totally saw the thought that Amanda Cohen, chef and owner, had put into all the dishes and the great care she gave to us diners.
Dirt Candy — 430 E. 9th Street