With the closing of Angelica Kitchen, and the drama going on behind the curtain at by CHLOE., it's a good time to reflect on the changing face and tastes of vegetarian cuisine in NYC. There was a time when meat-free spots were sparse—in the 1970s, vegetarian cuisine was heavy on the basics (sprouts), even heavier on the use of the term "macrobiotic," and light on the flavor; it also came with a side of California Cult Life. For a great snapshot of a New Yorker's introduction into the L.A. "health food" scene that vegetarianism was embedded in at that time, look no further than Annie Hall.
Back in NYC, vegetarian spots were sprouting up, though as you can see from this 1979 review of Arnold's Turtle, a "strictly vegetarian" restaurant, meat also sometimes came into play:
"The menu is strictly vegetarian... Anything from a glass of carrot juice (said to be organic) for $1.35 to a piping‐hot, baked vegetable main course for $5 can be had at any time of day; there is never a minimum. What regulars seem prefer is a combination of small shared side orders, such as parsley and boulghor salad, tabouli (made with currants, which seems a mistake) and chomos (chicken and tahini pea puree)."
By the 1990s, the "almost-vegetarian" diet was hitting its peak. During this time Angelica seemed to flouish; it was still tough to come by many vegan or vegetarian restaurants in the city, and the perfectly serviceable Angelica was a go-to for many on a no-meat diet at the time. Just ask Moby. But now, NOW, we have options (and sadly, those options may have made Angelica irrelevant). While by CHLOE. brought vegetarianism into the fast food market—serving up burgers and mac n' cheese and desserts—Dirt Candy has been doing the opposite. Carefully executed, beautiful dishes like you won't see anywhere else.
Dirt Candy, my friends, is the best vegetarian restaurant in the city, and we're lucky to have the creative mind of chef/owner Amanda Cohen here to serve us her wildly ingenious culinary creations. As a longtime vegetarian who lived off soy cutlets and tomato sandwiches for too long, I have loved Dirt Candy since they opened in their original spot, and went by recently upon invite. While there I was served up as much of the menu as myself and a friend could consume, and we both left astonished. Popcorn beets! Broccoli dogs! Some sort of edible birds nest! Everything on the menu is the reason Dirt Candy is the best veggie spot in town—the dishes are as visually delightful as they are delicious, and you can click through on the photos to feast your eyes on most of them.
The best of the best: Rutabaga (ginger & kale cake with mustard tuile and smoked cream cheese), Spinach Spaetzle (do not sleep on this one, it was my favorite, hands down), Zucchini Takoyaki, the Onion Tart for dessert, and those popcorn beets. We've come a long way since sprout sandwiches and bulgur wheat.
A rep for the restaurant tells me the menu will start to change a little with the weather around May/June, and my obsessive Instagram-stalking of them tells me they're testing out some spring cocktails. (Currently, I'd recommend the Radish Gimlet.)
Dirt Candy is located at 86 Allen Street, near Broome.