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Cauliflower & Waffles

The most popular new dish at Dirt Candy is Cauliflower. Like Angelina Jolie, people can’t seem to get enough of it, it’s wildly popular and has even been photographed by New York magazine.

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“Everyone wants me, I am so pretty!

Come here. Too close. Go away.

Now come back. Ha ha ha!”

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Pretty amazing for a dish born out of my own guilt and sense of personal failure and even more amazing when you consider that it’s made entirely of aborted stem cells. Say what?!? Don’t be grossed out, it’s only botany. So come on inside and learn about this intersection of my private shame, soul food, Will Smith, Gladys Knight, Thomas Jefferson and ponies that has produced Cornflake Crusted Cauliflower with Buttermilk Pancakes, Wild Arugula and Apple Salad with Maple Dressing and Horseradish Sauce.

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Two years ago, when Dirt Candy opened, one of the first dishes on the menu was Roasted Cauliflower Pappardelle which was a semi-deconstructed version of Sicilian pappardelle with raisins, tomatoes and pine nuts. It was a dish that divided customers like Sarah Palin: some loved it without reservation, others hated it with passion. It stayed on the menu for a while and then went away to make room for other dishes but a sense of guilt and shame gnawed away at the back of my mind: I had failed cauliflower. This was its chance to shine and I had made a dish that wasn’t exciting everyone. I felt embarrassed and burned with a deep desire to make things up to cauliflower.

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I let you down, cauliflower, but I swear by all that is

holy that I will do right by you one day!

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Cauliflower isn’t a vegetable that excites a lot of people. It looks beautiful, but it’s usually served raw or boiled to death which robs it of its subtle flavor. It’s from the same family as brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage and collards which are plants that we usually eat the leaves of, but with cauliflower we’re eating aborted floral meristems. Wait for the explanation before you are repulsed. Meristems are the stem cells of the plant kingdom – undifferentiated cells that grow and then take on the attributes of flowers, leaves or roots. The head of the cauliflower is a giant knob – or, as science calls it, a curd – of meristems that were going to flower but when the gene known as CAULIFLOWER encounters the gene called APETALA1, they mutate and cause the curd to grow out of control instead of becoming leaves and flowers.

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Stinking mutants.

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I was dying to do something new with these little mutants, something that would redeem me in their eyes after failing them the first time, and after frying some cauliflower and realizing that they looked like little drumsticks I started thinking about chicken and waffles. Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790′s and sparked a bit of a colonial waffle craze and chicken and waffles became a part of the slave kitchen shortly thereafter. The Pennsylvania Dutch had been doing the same thing for a while, but it wasn’t until Wells Supper Club in Harlem started selling the dish in 1938 that it entered the mainstream consciousness, a blend of the two traditions: it was in the northeast, as a shout-out to the Pennsylvania Dutch, but it was in a Harlem club, due to its popularity in the African American community.

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Chicken and Waffles hit the big time when soul food chain, Roscoes (opened in LA by a Harlem native), made it one of their specialties and spread the C&W gospel throughout the land. By the time the 80′s rolled around, Will Smith was talking about chicken & waffles on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and in 1997 Gladys Knight (of GK and the Pips) was serving them at her chain of soul food restaurants. Cult film, TAPEHEADS, even shoots an ad for Roscoes in which they rap about chicken & waffles.

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But putting this dish together was a NASA-level challenge. It took ages to get the waffle batter right. I settled on buttermilk batter for the waffles after some brief trial and error, but it took two months of experimentation to get the vegan version right. I kept trying to get the breading to stick to the cauliflower, but it was always sliding off which drove me crazy until I looked at the back of a box of Corn Flakes and saw their recipe for batter and used it without any changes and it worked perfectly right away.

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Thanks, Corn Flakes!

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I wanted to have maple syrup on the dish, but maple can get out of hand pretty quickly. If you don’t apply it with great care it starts getting all over everything on the plate and before you know it everything tastes like maple syrup. I decided to make a light maple dressing for an arugula salad with apple slivers in it and it worked like a dream. There was maple flavor but it stayed on the salad, and the arugula and apples gave a nice contrasting texture to the dish. I also scattered dehydrated cauliflower bits over the salad which most people don’t notice but they’re little crumbles of solid cauliflower flavor.

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I needed something to cut the sweetness of the waffles and the maple, though, because the dish was in danger of becoming one-note. Enter: horseradish. Winter is exactly the time of year when you want to eat horseradish – it’ll wake you up and set your head on fire in all the right ways, warming you up as the weather turns gloomy and cold. Originally called “Mare Radish” because it was made by having ponies jump up and down on the radish root so they’d grind it up with their tiny hooves, there’s something very Dutch/German about horseradish, which ties in with the roots of chicken & waffles.

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The dish was almost complete but there was something lacking and I realized that it was the cauliflower. At this point, I’d been trying to get this dish on the menu for almost three months and it wasn’t coming together. I was ready to scrap it all and then, suddenly, I had a brainstorm: smoked cauliflower. Once I figured out how long it needed to be smoked (a looooong time) the dish snapped into place. The smoking brings out the cauliflower flavor and provides a great counterpoint to the horseradish and the maple syrup.

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I also threw in some pickled cauliflower to

add a little sourness to the mix.

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People have gone nuts for this dish but even better than that, it’s how I measure my relationship with my staff. Savvy tables horde their maple butter from the hush puppies and put it on their waffles, and Jesus and William (my dishwasher) make waffles with maple butter as a late night snack. And I know I’m getting along with my staff when I look down at my prep table and see a waffle with maple butter that Jesus has made sitting there waiting for me.

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Cauliflower, I hope I’ve done right by you this time.

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Spinach $13
spinach & grapefruit mille-feuille,
with smoked pistachios and ricotta

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll $10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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