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Eating Clean at Dirt: Serving Fine Food Fast

Originally appeared in Lone Palm

With a mantra of Eat Clean, it’s easy to figure out that Dirt serves healthy food. However, this new South Beach eatery isn’t your typical vegan or vegetarian cafe. Though it caters to gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian diets, the menu at DIRT eschews labels, focusing instead on serving chef-driven dishes.

Helmed by Chef Nicole Votano, the menu at DIRT redefines healthy eating by focusing on the idea of “eating clean.” That means creating delicious, sustainable, healthy cuisine that diners can feel confident about eating, in a setting that feels approachable. 

“One of the things that I feel makes us different is that although we are a healthy restaurant, we are all about flavor first. When I create the dishes for the menu, I think first about what ingredients are in season and use as many vegetables as possible. Then I think about what those ingredients pair well with, and finally I choose the highest quality sustainable products I can source,” says Chef Votano.

DIRT offers items for breakfast, lunch and dinner rooted in seasonal ingredients that are focused on quality and flavor. Ingredients are carefully selected from a variety of top local and global suppliers for their high-quality and speciality.  

“We love to showcase ingredients from local farms, vendors, and artisans. And I love being able to showcase locals like JoJo Tea and Harpke Farms.  I have been working with both vendors for years, and have a profound respect for their knowledge and commitment to their craft,” she says.  

With time spent in major food-focused cities like London and San Francisco, she draws on a range of international flavors to craft the seasonal menus. Her Italian roots and love of American comfort food can be seen in dishes like the seasonal plate, Chimayo Chili Bowl, and the almond butter and jam toast – a twist on the classic PB&J. The Chimayo Chili Bowl is Votano’s version of a classic chili dish, served vegetarian and topped with a blend of smoky spices sourced from custom spice blender La Boite, based in New York.

“For me, food is all about memories,” she says, “so I often tie dishes back to familiar flavors or things that I associate with a strong memory or an experience.” Bringing together family with food, the Jalisco Bowl on the breakfast menu includes a chile d'arbol hot sauce that she learned how to make from her husband.

For lighter fare, she recommends the Berkeley Beets, a sandwich (or collard wrap) inspired by Northern California. Built in layers of flavors, the bread is slathered with smashed avocado, French feta, and golden raisins, then layered with braised beets, shaved fennel, sliced cucumber, and wild arugula, drizzled with a crisp lemon vinaigrette.

In a unique collaboration with JoJo tea, she created the DIRT x JoJo Tea Salad by Tico featuring a vinaigrette of fresh matcha green tea with a blend of toasted pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp seeds. The base is a mix of some of her springtime favorites: English peas, asparagus and mushrooms.

“I just love those flavors together [asparagus and mushrooms] so you’ll always see that on the menu somewhere,” says Chef Votano.

Rounding out the menu is an array of juices and mixed drinks, including the Matcha Green Tea Latte and Lavender Latte, flavored with Sonoma lavender syrup and inspired by Chef Votano’s visits to Napa Valley. For a refreshing take on a summer classic, try the DIRTy Palmer, made with a blend of grapefruit juice, Madagascar vanilla, and chamomile and rooibos teas. It’s a traditional Arnold Palmer, made better. For diners with a sweet tooth, DIRT also makes homemade baked goods and desserts in-house every day.

When not developing new ideas for DIRT, Chef Votano is often exploring farmer’s markets, including her local favorites, the Pinecrest Farmers Market and smaller, community-focused Coral Gables Farmers market. For her, they provide inspiration and strengthen her connection to food.

Since opening in November of 2015, DIRT has been successful in its mission to serve high-quality, well-executed dishes that you’d expect at a sit-down restaurant.

It has been recognized numerous times by the press and received a Slow Food Snail of Approval. So far, it is the only restaurant south of Orlando to earn certification by the United States Healthful Food Council's Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) program, a nationally-recognized mark of excellence for environmental stewardship, high-quality sourcing, and holistic nutrition.

The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce has also recognized the restaurant for innovative design and architecture. Housed in a bright, airy space on a busy section of South Fifth Street, it is an example of how counter-service can be elevated to meet the standards of customers typically accustomed to a typical restaurant setting.

While DIRT has only been open for several months, Co-Founder and General Manager Jeff LaTulippe had been developing the concept for several years. Already, plans are in the works to expand.

Dirt
M - F | 10:00 am to 10:00 pm
Saturday | 9:00 am to 9:00 pm
232 Fifth Street | Miami Beach

Kim Kirby

London, UK