Amanda Cohen's walnut fennel sticky bun will rewrite your world view.
Her tomato biscuit with basil butter and green tomato jelly requires a similar revision.
Pretty much everything on the menu of Lower East Side eatery Dirt Candy is proof that we've all been wrong about vegetables. If not wrong...at least lazy.
Cohen invites fruits and vegetables to step into familiar roles with unfamiliar gusto. When are carrots ever the star of a slider dish, much less—move over potato bread—used to flavor the buns as well? At Dirt Candy, broccoli is a dog that comes with tangy broccoli kraut and a crisp side of salt and vinegar broccoli rabe. You don't realize what a gymnast rutabaga is, until you see it stick the landing for three different routines on the same plate.
Dirt Candy is revolutionary in its unabashed insistence that you notice every angle and iteration of the plant. Each dish is presented so lovingly, so sumptuously, that it’s impossible not to enjoy it with as much deliberation as the chef put into building the plate.
I came here the first time two years ago for a celebratory post-NYC marathon dinner, during which I took many unworthy photos with my cell phone in the dim restaurant light. I’ve since gone back for brunch (with better light and a better camera), and though I missed the Korean fried broccoli and the brussels sprout tacos, a bite of the corn french toast with bourbon maple syrup made me forget my past cruciferous romances (at least temporarily).
The brunch offerings—though just as cheeky and inventive as the dinner courses—hit you with more of a holyshiticantbelievethisisactuallyvegan shock to the system. Of course I’m charmed to contemplate the double entendre of zucchini pancakes and squash blossom butter, but I’m almost distracted by how goddamn decadent everything is.
Yet at both dinner and brunch, Dirt Candy is dishing out more than impossibly delicious veg-forward fare; it’s plated proof that our stagnating food system is as much a failure of imagination as anything. A tragedy of inertia. If folks scoff at the thought of vegan baked goods, it’s only because our confectionary heritage has been limited to the chemistry of eggs and dairy.
But Cohen has cracked the code. She is a botanic alchemist. And she's showing us not only what is possible, but what is required.
For many American diners (for most?), veggies are an afterthought. Too few chefs and too few home cooks are bold enough to let plants steal the show. How much love can we lavish on the root veg? How high can we elevate our greens? On Allen street, pumpkin pad thai and jalapeño hush puppies are soaring to new heights with shanghai shoots and chocolate onion tarts in tow. Clean, kind, audacious cooking is the future.