By Valeria Nekhim Lease | Originally appeared in Miami New Times
Many health-driven restaurants omit meat from their menus, but Dirt is all about inclusivity. Yes, the eatery offers açaí bowls ($12) and cold-pressed juices, but, as cofounder and general manager Jeff Latulippe puts it, "this is a place where our dads can go." And it's true — at this fast-casual South Beach spot, you can order a steak-and-cheese sandwich ($14.50); the difference here is the steak is grass-fed, the tomatoes are locally grown, and the nutritional information is visible for all to see.
Indeed, Dirt has four menus: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and Paleo. But for director of operations and chef Nicole Votano, accommodating myriad dietary restrictions is relatively simple because most dishes are built around vegetables. Furthermore, a bulk of menu items allow the consumer to choose their protein from a list that includes quinoa crusted day-boat fish, free-range orange basil chicken, cage-free eggs, and sprouted chickpeas and lentils.
"Our emphasis is on where the food comes from and we do local as much as possible, but while at a lot of healthy places the health comes first and the taste comes after, we're the opposite," Votano says.
She's right: Dirt's mission to serve clean, affordable food doesn't stand in the way of flavor. For instance, the seasonal plate ($16) — featuring a root vegetable mash, spicy grilled kale, shaved carrots, pomegranate, and, on a recent day, orange basil chicken — is bright, light, and surprisingly hearty. If you didn't just go up to the counter and order it, you'd think you were eating at a fine-dining establishment.
That's because Chef Votano is a classically trained toque who attended New York City's French Culinary Institute. Her previous position was the top chef at Fooq's, where she earned great reviews for her comforting yet chef-driven cuisine.
Speaking of her new role, Votano says it's not as drastic a change as people assume because the core of what she does is still sourcing local ingredients and building relationships with farmers. However, at Dirt she's also director of operations, which she says allows her to grow as an entrepreneur and spend more time with her children. Other perks, she says, have included losing 15 pounds and seeing noticeable improvements in her hair and skin. Now who said Dirt isn't good for you?