If you want big boobs, sugar-laden mojitos, or would-be Cuban sandwiches chockful of hormone-pumped pork, you can find it on either Washington Avenue or Ocean Drive. And this is probably why these thoroughfares are a no-locals land when it comes eating and drinking. Sure, you've got Sriracha House and the oodles of noodles right in the center of all the action, best new restaurant contender Tongue & Cheek across the street, and even the salubrious Under the Mango Tree just a few blocks away, but there isn't really a place where residents can get fine food served fast. Luckily, that's the M.O of the somewhat soon-to-open (September) Dirt.
Nestled on Fifth street between Collins and Washington, Dirt is putting down roots right between the residential South of Fifth neighborhood and tourist central. "We looked around for a long time," says co-founder Jeff LaTulippe . "But I feel it's the only area that gets so much foot traffic that's not directly on the beach."
Dirt is a crossing of LaTulippe's professional and personal journey. With a background in finance and private equity, he knows what makes different companies in different industries work. "The ones that always interested me the most were restaurant and retail concepts," he says. Combined with his own personal achievement of going from 208 pounds to 150 by simply changing eating and fitness habits, he realized that quality of food was directly tied to the quality of life. So he went back to business school without really knowing why. "I knew I wanted to do something with health and fitness, and then I thought of starting a fast casual place I wanted to go to regularly." Thus Dirt was born.
Joining him in the venture is Matt Ernst and executive chef Jonathan Seningen whose most recent kitchen stint was executive chef of one of Washington's top vegan restaurants, Elizabeth's Gone Raw. While Dirt isn't setting out to be a strictly vegan, things that come directly from the earth's soil are the main focus (hence the name). "You can't really be pretentious when you call yourself Dirt. It's all about from the ground up, and while we will have sustainably raised meats and proteins, we are vegetable forward," LaTulippe says.
"Our goal was to have those options on there, but to have them be high quality-protein." That means wild-caught fish, no hormones or antibiotics. "Our other goal was to really have something for everyone at every time of day," says LaTulippe. So it's not just your morning acai bowl, but lunch and dinner items, as well a private label coffee and a night cap by way of craft beer.
"Another big thing is transparency," he adds. This is why the menu at Dirt will let you know not just where all your ingredients are coming from (the idea is to use as many local farms as much as the seasons allow), but to have menus that will disclose the caloric count for all items. Strictly paleo or vegan? There are personalized menus to adapt to every type of eater. "Seems like everyone has a different dietary restriction or preference nowadays, so we're labeling every menu item."
That's also why they're working with the United States Healthful Food Council to be the first REAL (Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership) certified restaurant south of Tampa. "The inspections are rigorous to ensure you're cooking with the best possible everything at all times" In other words, you can feel darn good about what you'll be eating, even if it comes from Dirt.
As for the offerings, Dirt will boast everything from rise-and-grow bowls with house-made granola and almond milks to house-made protein bar and oats with all sorts of fixins such as golden raisins, goji berries, shaved coconuts, Brazil nuts, and even cayenne. There will also be salads (with the best possibly plucked produce of course) and sandwiches. "Our big thing was to not do a chicken caeser wrap or brown rice and chicken. That's what we didn't want," LaTulippe says.
Instead, you'll be able to bite into items like a quinoa-crusted blue catfish po'boy with zucchini jalapeno slaw, crispy capers, tomatoes, and creamy slaw dressing. To keep up with the ever-advancing liquid lifestyle, Dirt will proffer a bevy of juices and smoothies. They will be served in glass jars to avoid the chemicals from plastic packaging and help the environment. They'll even give you a discount on your next purchase. All you must do is bring back the jar and get 10% off. "It's our way of not just being sustainable but encouraging the community to do the same." Indeed, be the change you want to see in the world.
That's even down to the teas and sparkling waters that will be made in house, as well the selection of local and organic craft beer and biodynamic wines, Dirt isn't cutting any corners. And the best part is you won't have to either — because the price point is in the $10 to $20 per person range.
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