If you're in South Beach looking for local and healthful food, there is no question that the one place you should head to is DIRT. Helmed by Chef Nicole, who was the executive chef at Michelle Bernstein's Crumb on Parchment and Fooq's, the food coming out of the kitchen is not only conscious of its environment and community, but also downright inspiring. While trying to adopt a mostly local approach to its food offerings, the menu manages to be seasonal and flavorful, relying more on the essence of the ingredients instead of the things that are added to them.
Walking in, you are treated by an apt Florida sculpture that pin-points which ingredients are coming from where in Florida. Conversely, DIRT is also extremely transparent as to which ingredients aren't local and also highlights where they are from. "There are some ingredients that you just can't find locally," mentioned Nicole. "We don't want to miss out on some amazing micro-seasonal produce that other cities get." Ingredients like rhubarb and leeks, amongst others, are hard to find locally, but still produce incredible dishes. These are the type of dishes and ingredients Nicole is referring to. DIRT works with small, organic, local farms using practices that support and sustain the earth, and the DIRT team meets with their farmers personally to ensure that standards for produce and how it is grown is mutual between both of them.
The harissa-spiked Hummus served with olive oil grilled Zak the Baker toast was an apt way to start the meal. The hummus has a great, ultra-smooth and -creamy texture, while maintaining a subtly spiced flavor that quickly became one of my favorite hummuses in the city. The grilled bread served to dip into the hummus took it over the top, as I'm sure we all know how great Zak the Baker bread can be. Next came the quinoa-crusted fish Po- Boy. Served with zucchini jalapeño slaw, local tomatoes, basil leaves, and Greek yogurt remoulade, this sandwich was an exercise in how to properly lighten up a notoriously heavy dish. The quinoa breading properly mimicked the cornmeal breading you normally see on Po-Boys, and the fish was as great as what can be expected from locally caught fish in South Florida. The delightful slaw added a refreshing and somewhat spicy element to a sandwich that was extremely balanced.
Most impressive of all was the Spring Plate, which allows you to choose a protein and have it served alongside greek yogurt and olive oil smashed potatoes, spicy grilled broccolini, with herbs and shaved vegetables. Nicole wouldn't stop raving about how special her eggs were, so I definitely decided to go with that as my protein. Nicole was right about her eggs, which were as pure tasting as any eggs I could imagine and had a golden yolk that essentially acted as its own sauce on the plate. The mashed potatoes were perfectly seasoned and somewhat lumpy, yet balanced due to the extra tang coming from the greek yogurt. Bringing it all together was the charred broccolini, which added a different aspect of flavor to the dish while adding some texture as well. Overall, this was a great way to highlight the ingredients the season has to offer.
Even though DIRT is trying to appeal to those looking for healthy alternatives in South Beach, there is no doubt that what is coming out of the kitchen is some of the best local food in the city. By focusing on maintaining the integrity of the ingredients, DIRT brings something new to the beach. Something that the beach was missing.
Food Editor, Santiago Cardona