Is there really anything more fun than a girls dinner? Not really. A little while back a group of my girlfriends and I had a much-anticipated dinner at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants here in the city — Dirt Candy. As I’ve previously mentioned, many, many times, I’m the only vegetarian in my group of close girlfriends. So you know, something must be up when a vegetarian dinner can be described as “much-anticipated.” So what’s up?
Well, Dirt Candy is not exactly easy to get into. I have been to the restaurant a total of 4 times now, and every single time, I’ve had to make reservations so very far in advance. Oftentimes, I just look for the next available reservation and book it, not knowing who I’m going with, but just knowing someone will want to go. This particular reservation — for 5 ladies — was made during my birthday celebrations in May. When did we actually go? Mid to late July.
Now that might sound a bit obnoxious if you’re the kind of person who likes to get in somewhere immediately. But I’m telling you, it’s worth the wait. And actually? I kind of like the anticipation of it. Unlike other things I enjoy the anticipation of, but then feel let down when it actually happens, Dirt Candy doesn’t disappoint. It used to be a teeny tiny place in the East Village, but recently upgraded to much more space on the Lower East Side earlier this year. Still packed. It’s that good.
The restaurant, while being entirely vegetarian (and most dishes can be made vegan as well), is actually owned/created by a meat-eater. You read that right. The line that always stands out to me when reading random food blogs that have mentioned Dirt Candy — and their own website — is “anyone can cook a burger. Leave the vegetables to the professionals.” Which makes me giggle. Because let’s face it, it’s actually not that hard to make vegetables taste good. But in our meat-obsessed culture where a meal isn’t a meal without copious amounts of meat-based protein, the idea that an entire meal can consist of vegetables is a bit “out there,” and of course can’t taste good.
Dirt Candy not only turns that notion on it’s head, but the fact that it’s full of hippy vegans and meat-eaters alike makes it this sort of “can’t we all just get along” acceptance of each other dinner which I adore. The food is pretty darn harmonious as well. Let’s talk more about the food, shall we?
There are a few must-must-must orders here. The first is the Jalapeño Hush Puppies (vegan optional). Crispy on the outside with corn and spice on the inside, it’s sinfully delicious — especially when they come out hot and the maple butter (or margarine) melts on the inside. So. So. Good.
The second you-haven’t-lived-until-you’ve-eaten-this item on the menu is the Korean Fried Broccoli. The idea with these is that they’re like chicken wings. Which yes, seems kind of strange. But I’m telling you, it’s one of the best things you’ve ever eaten. I don’t even like chicken wings, but this broccoli is out of this world. It must be fried or at least broiled, it’s super crispy on the outside and full of greeny goodness on the inside. It has the perfect kind of smokey flavor with just the right amount of spice — enough to make your nose sweat a little, but not too much to burn your tastebuds off. Pure perfection. Order more than one order. You won’t regret it.
Our meal was very share-focused, so everyone could try bits and pieces of everything. The next item we had that was pretty delicious (though somewhat difficult to share between 5 girls) called simply “tomato.” It was some sort of NYC portioned veggie deliciousness that, while not nearly as to-die-for as the broccoli, was still worth the small amount of room it took in my belly.
Next up we had the dish simply called “mushroom” which consisted of mushrooms three ways; as a mousse, a truffle spread, and I’m forgetting the third way. But it was great. Served with Asian pears, it was not only a site to behold but it was a pleasure for the tastebuds as well. Though of course, I’m quite partial to anything that incorporates truffle.
For our big main we shared the brussel sprout tacos, which are exactly what they sound like. But the really fun thing about them was that they came ready-to-assemble. The sprouts were served fajita style — sizzling on a hot rock — and surrounded by little teeny bowls of condiments for topping. I’m a sucker for condiments, and build-your-own for that matter, so these little suckers really had me. And with lettuce wraps instead of tortilla shells, they’re 100% guilt free.
Considering we were sharing everything, we decided to go ahead and also order dessert. Because dessert divided by 5 is really not dessert. So it doesn’t count, right? It turned out to be the only thing we ordered that didn’t totally blow me away. We went with the corn cake, which I had ordered before at their previous location. Then, it was a really different dish. I only really wanted it for the popcorn ice cream which from my other visit was too good to be true. And maybe it was, because this time around, the corn cake was a little dry, and the popcorn ice cream was so-so. The presentation was a bit different than it was before, here served as a cake with side of ice cream, before it all came in one glorious salty sweet cup of yum. This was still good. But not worth it if you’re eating alone.
All in all, this is by far one of my favorite restaurants in the city for vegetarian and vegan fare. The new location is more spruced up than the old one, and it’s definitely worthy of bringing any doubtful meat eaters in for a meal they’ll love. There’s no faux meat substitutes, which really make this a stand out among vegetarian restaurants. As they say, anyone can cook a burger (or make some soy version of that burger) but to make brussel sprout tacos and Korean style broccoli that is chicken-wing reminiscent? That takes professionals. Don’t walk –run here — in 3 months when you can get a reservation.