On Foodable Side Dish: Best of 2016

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

On Foodable Side Dish” aims to give you an inside look at the trending concepts, exclusive kitchens, and unique chefs in the restaurant business through the eyes of a local from different cities. The show hit major milestones this year — one of them being the first time we hit the food scene in Canada! But which were the best moments of 2016? Watch this "Best of" and find out! 

Chef Amanda Cohen at Dirt Candy

With chef and owner Amanda Cohen at the helm, Dirt Candy’s mission is to celebrate the glory of vegetables like never before in New York City. Cohen, who is vegetarian, and her team have been very successful at doing just that!

Dirt Candy has established itself as a leader in the vegetable-forward movement — and with a few accolades to prove it, including becoming the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive two stars from the New York Times, being recognized by the Michelin Guide five years in a row, and winning awards from Gourmet Magazine. Now it is honored in this episode of "On Foodable Side Dish: Best of 2016"!

Because the idea behind Dirt Candy’s operation is to educate diners about how delicious vegetables can be, the adventurous chef has menu items with names like "Whatever Pickles" that allow her to be creative and have fun with her dishes, all while exposing her guests to a wide variety of tastes and different kinds of vegetables.

“We call them 'Whatever Pickles' because, really, it’s whatever we find in our walk-in that day. Lately, we’ve been finding a lot of lollipop sprout, which isn’t a vegetable most people are familiar with. We’re having a lot of fun with it,” she said. “Sometimes the biggest flavor comes from the simplest dishes.”

Chef Matthew Hyland at Emmy Squared

The first three meals the Hyland couple shared revolved around pizza. It’s been a love affair with each other and the cheesy dish ever since. It was only natural that the first venture Chef Matthew Hyland took on was with his wife, Emily, also the namesake for their first restaurant, and the concept had to do with pizza, among other delicious fare.

Now with Emmy Squared, their second restaurant, which is located in the neighborhood of Williamsburg in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, the couple aims to reintroduce an underrepresented style of pizza — The Detroit-style Deep Dish Pizza.

The first time Chef Hyland tried this style of pizza was an eye-opening experience for him. The pizza was actually delivered from the Motor City itself.

“It was pretty spectacular because growing up eating Sicilian pizza and grandma pizza here...those were really the only exposure to square pizza we had in New York! ” Hyland said.

The learning curve to perfect the special dish was not an easy one, but after months of trial and error, Chef Hyland is proud of the results demonstrating growth in his craft.

Chef Danny St-Pierre at Petite Maison

Elegance exudes from every dish served at Petite Maison in Montreal, Canada. That’s the goal, according to Chef Danny St-Pierre, whose culinary touch elevates the most traditional of dishes. The remarkable thing is that the price point is still very affordable and the design and decor of the restaurant is very approachable — hence the restaurant name, Petite Maison, which is French for “Little House.”

“We’re like an upscale diner, if you may. A place where people of all origins or budgets can come and see us and have a good time,” St-Pierre said.

We decided to visit Petite Maison thanks to its high ranking in our Top 25 Canada list, which features the best restaurants in Canada's most well-known food cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Petite Maison did not disappoint.

Chef St-Pierre, creator of the inverted poutine — his personal take on Quebec’s national dish, poutine or cheese fries with brown gravy — is restless in the kitchen. During our Top Dish Canada competition, this innovative chef gushed about his homemade rye bread, which they make early every morning, and his spin on the traditional Tarte de Sucre, or sugar pie, before going into detail about his star dish, the jambon braise carbonara, or ham-braised pasta carbonara.

This episode is one of our favorites because it’s dynamic, Chef St-Pierre is fun and unique, and the #foodporn is present all across the board!

Watch each episode individually to learn more:

Dirt Candy: Changing the Way Diners Eat (and Think About) Vegetables

On this “On Foodable Side Dish,” Foodable video correspondent Agnes Chung takes us to the lower east side of Manhattan, where the highly acclaimed, veg-centric restaurant Dirt Candy has replanted itself to a new, larger location. 

With Chef Amanda Cohen at the helm, Dirt Candy moves vegetables from a side dish to the main course, and it’s receiving praise along the way.

“This has been a work in progress, and we did open Dirt Candy — the original one — about seven years ago,” says Cohen. “I’d been working in the city for years and years, and I finally came to a point in my career where I wanted to work for myself and not others. And I really wanted a restaurant that was going to celebrate vegetables.”

Of course, we’ve seen chefs focusing more on vegetables being the star of the plate throughout the past year or so. But no one has done it as prominently as Cohen and her team.

“There was, and there really still isn’t any restaurant in New York that is solely devoted to just the glory of vegetables, and that’s what I wanted to be.”

With local and seasonal being hot topics in the industry today, how does Dirt Candy scale ingredients? And how does it affect menu development?

The restaurant veers away from using hyper-seasonal vegetables because of this, says Cohen. “I do go to the farmers markets and I think local food is really important, I think farmers markets are really important, but it’s not always that accessible,” she says. “And we sort of live in a post-seasonal world, where everything is available.”

One item that probably won’t be coming off the menu anytime soon is Dirt Candy’s Portobello Mousse dish. “It’s been on the menu since day one, it’s one of the dishes that put us on the map, it was sort of I think the first introduction for most people that…vegetables actually can be very luxurious and decadent,” Cohen says. 

Portobello mousse

Portobello mousse

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Whatever pickles

Whatever pickles

The intention behind the operation is to educate diners about how delicious vegetables can taste and to highlight vegetables in a way that someone could never before imagine. Chef Cohen brings us into the kitchen to demonstrate this with a dish called Whatever Pickles.

“We call them Whatever Pickles because really, it’s whatever we find in our walk-in that day. Lately, we’ve been finding a lot of lollipop sprout, which isn’t a vegetable most people are familiar with. We’re having a lot of fun with it,” she says. “Sometimes the biggest flavor comes from the simplest dishes.”

But the culinary aspect of Dirt Candy is not the only thing that differentiates it from other restaurants. On the operational side, like a small group of other owners, Cohen has decided to forgo tipping. Her “no tipping” policy stems from a difficult time finding cooks. “It sort of started to become apparent that we were losing a lot of cooks in the city,” she says. “And I realized we’re losing cooks in the city because we aren’t paying them enough. New York is really, really expensive.” 

Of course, the argument also comes down to wanting to pay back-of-house staff and front-of-house staff as fairly equally as possible. “I found it [tipping] a really unfair system. I didn’t like the fact that basically I was letting my customers be my Human Resources department.”

With menu items like jalapeño hushpuppies and Brussels sprout tacos, who wouldn’t look at vegetables in a new light?