DIG in Delray Beach: Ambitious Food, Weird Space

Farm-to-table dining has become so mainstream that Levi's is collaborating on a T-shirt collection with Alice Waters, the gastronomic icon who pioneered the movement when she founded Berkeley's legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in 1971.

These days, big cities like New York and Chicago are choked with farm-to-table restaurants that promote Waters' mantra: Fresh! Local! Organic! Farmers are given shoutouts on menus as though they are superstars. ("We only get our produce from Dungaree Bob.") Customers can be overheard quibbling about the merits of grass-fed versus grain-fed beef. ("It tastes... grassier.") Yet here in South Florida, the movement is — depending on your perspective — either just gaining traction or a luxury for lucky bastards spared from worrying about bills, decreased home value, or job security. 

Sure, South Florida embraced its first Whole Foods way back in 2001.  But restaurants specializing in local, organic eats have been slow to take hold, with only Cafe Boulud , Market 17, and Max's Harvest operating with a hardcore farm-to-table ethos. Delray Beach's DIG — which stands for Doing It Green — followed in June.

Turkey meat loaf: $16.
CandaceWest.coma
Turkey meat loaf: $16.

In its former life, the space where DIG resides was home to Greenfield's on Atlantic, a five-course concept catering to early birds. Its time had passed, owner Robert Greenfield decided. Inspired by farm-to-table dining outside of South Florida, Greenfield approached Joey Giannuzzi — owner of the Green Gourmet market and one of the few local militants of the movement — about partnering for DIG. Greenfield said he intended for DIG to "lead the way" in "the revolution" of how we eat.

But operating an authentic farm-to-table eatery is no simple task. It takes tremendous effort just to procure ingredients. Whereas bigger cities have farmers' markets that sell only organic produce and a slew of distributors specializing in artisan ingredients, that's not the case here. As a result, the cost difference in sourcing ingredients is staggering, and the time it can take is maddening. "I spend hours on the phone with each of my purveyors — individual farmers — every day," said Giannuzzi.

In fact, the strain led to Giannuzzi's breaking off his partnership with Greenfield in August, just two months after opening. No bad blood; Giannuzzi just found it too difficult to stay on at DIG while continuing to run the Green Gourmet.

A friend and I first visited DIG in the wake of this shuffle. The restaurant is located on Atlantic Avenue, Delray's main drag — but west of I-95 rather than in the restaurant-dense downtown stretch. Foodies might find it an odd choice, but Giannuzzi told me later that the location was initially a draw for him. "I know the area very well," he said. "I know the patterns here. And I know what people here like to eat."

Translation: This area caters to retirees.

Confirmation? A salad bar.

In conversation, Greenfield proudly described the salad bar as a selling point, pointing out that it is stocked with all-organic greens, seasonal produce, tabbouleh, and hummus.

But its physical presence — a formidable wooden box — essentially splits the room in two. DIG, with its dim lighting and hotel-ballroom chairs, is low on ambiance to begin with, and the fact that the salad bar looks like a casket doesn't help. Having ingredients languish in bins detracts from the fresh, artisanal, and made-to-order dishes at the heart of farm-to-table dining.

In any case, on one side of this salad bar sit retirees who are here for the $13 soup-and-salad special. On the other side sit those who have come for the concept. A lanky guy in business-casual duds tends to his lady on what appears to be a second date. A pair of women catch up at the bar.

There are some cool elements: Plate-glass windows lend a view of the vegetable garden on the lawn. Organic booze is lined up on shelves. But I couldn't shake the feeling that we were dining in a Friendly's.

Thankfully, in the kitchen was chef Wilson Wieggel, a dark-haired Swedish Adonis who spent the past two years in New Mexico working at Old House restaurant in the El Dorado HotelSanta Fe's Best New Restaurant of 2008, according to Zagat. He had known Giannuzzi from years working together at five different Burt Rapoport restaurants and took over DIG's kitchen July 8.

It was Wieggel I had to thank for some beautiful dishes. Take the eggplant rollatini ($9), listed as a small bite. Four cigar-sized rolls of grilled eggplant with crisped edges coddled an herbed goat-cheese filling. They were presented on a plate dressed with olive oil and purple pesto that's made with basil from the garden outside. A lovely chicken satay ($9) came with charred exterior, and a umami marinade was presented on a bed of bright-green seaweed.

East meets Southwest tuna ($13) was, likewise, a pretty plate. Seared rare and served with avocado, the medallions looked bright but tasted wan. "I never thought I'd say a fish was undersalted," said my friend.

On the menu, the mains are divided into three sections: pasture, farm, and water. I steered toward the farm section for vegetable lasagna ($14), delicate layers of eggplant, squash, peppers, yams, and portobellos. Heirloom pork, combined with creative accompaniments, makes the Iowa-based, Eden Farms center-cut pork chop ($22) a destination dish. The chop — from a Berkshire breed coveted for its marbling and flavor — came flanked by mashed yams and vegetables. A complex chili sauce is a souvenir from Weiggel's tenure in Santa Fe. 

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32 comments
Lukfff
Lukfff

You have to admit. That main picture looks like a pile of crap.

Victoria
Victoria

Just goes to show ya, ya can't please everybody!!!! 

Inspiredining
Inspiredining

Wow...so much hate for some reason...kinda laughable really.Either come on in and try it out...or,don't.This article paints a picture of a newly opened restaurant trying to work out the kinks of daily operations, find its stride and achieve excellence.I've been doing this for 20+ years, and have worked with literally thousands of different people.The people I work with every day here at DIG , every ONE of them, are hard working people who care about this concept. We come to work, try to do create and serve the best food we can, then go home and enjoy our lives....As far as Grant and Joey are concerned, I love and respect both those guys, and always will.Being a Chef is extremely demanding physically, mentally..and even emotionally. At times it can be a very thankless job. "You're only as good as your last plate." A Chef truthfully told me once. We'll be here...come visit! I can assure you that our lofty goal is to give you a fantastic dining experience, and (hopefully) an incredible "plate"...Be well.~Wilson

Gjohnson
Gjohnson

turkey meatloaf,eggplantrollatinni,tuna filet mignon.....funny no metion of grant johnson,just sayin,weird of that works/?

Irene
Irene

What a pile of crap. Pumping up a nobody "chef", defending convicted liars, yet another version of the Giannizzi saga. Talk about a disservice to the community. Like somehow the people who couldnt run a regular restaurant are pulling off a farm to table. I'd bet my last dollar that Giannizzi left because greenfield wanted to cheat

Dave
Dave

I don't get hate from this review...

C. Bennett Colín
C. Bennett Colín

I really wouldn't say that Mr. Weiggel is a "nobody chef."  Perhaps you should open your mind a bit?  It doesn't appear that Weiggel has anything to do with the politics of DIG or the choices made by management... Just saying!

melissamccart
melissamccart

Except when you read the thousand word letter from giannuzzi himself on the august 10th blog post I wrote he says otherwise. I followed up with giannuzzi after his posting. No conspiracy here.....Irene.

melissamccart
melissamccart

And Wieggel is not a nobody chef. Perhaps his cred rivals Giannuzzi's, since he helmed the kitchen in Zagat's best restaurant in 2008 and has been given nods in travel and leisure and elsewhere. Not too shabby considering Santa Fe has a more prolific fine dining scene than here.

 
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