Psyched for Dig Inn’s big opening tomorrow? Neighborhood food-lover and wannabe connoisseur Tatini Mal-Sarkar brings you reviews of pre-opening night at what might soon be your new favorite food spot in Morningside Heights.
If you’ve walked down Broadway at any point in the last couple months (read: if you go to Columbia and literally, literally do not live under a rock), you’ve seen the signs for Dig Inn, and thought to yourself, what is this and why/how is it so spectacularly punny?
The answer: a “seasonal market” for delicious, flavorful health food. Oxymoronic? Not according to the executive chef, Daniel Angerer, whose approach to food is known for replacing empty butter and cream with vegetables and herbs and other things you consider buying every time you see a farmer’s market and promptly forget about upon the sight of Oreos.
I walk in semi nervously, surprised and a little weirded out by the sheer quantity of people who’ve arrived right on time, as well as by the overall clientele and the poshness of it all. They’re going for an urban loft kind of vibe, which works to a certain extent, but combined with the amount of plaid and beards, it’s a bit intimidating/overpowering. The Cardomat sign has yet to be removed (how funny would it be if they just kept it), but by 6:15 it was pretty distinguishable by the line out the door and (probably) around the corner. The tables are dark wood, and the walls are a deliberately scruffy, whitewashed mix of brick and wood paneling. The centerpieces are bright blue, recently purchased (from Target – so hip) mason jars with cheerful, bright yellow, fresh flowers. The counter is line-style, with (incredibly friendly) workers putting together your protein, vegetables, and more vegetables, in a setting evocative of Chipotle but fancy. Overall it looks a bit trendy, but to be fair it’s a health food restaurant in 2014 – what do you expect?
In a youthful haze of unrealistic expectations, I’ve fantasized about the singular answer to my qualms about meal plans next year, and becoming the sort of person who eats radishes and knows what freekeh is. A quick glance at the menu reveals health food made not for Gwyneth Paltrow, but for a real live human being with functional taste buds. A pretentious live human being, sure, but human nonetheless (fun fact: EVOO stands for extra virgin olive oil. This acronym is used multiple times on the menu. Make of this what you will). Alas, like most things, Dig Inn was neither as good as I wanted nor as bad as I feared.
Though the menu touts itself as “reasonably priced,” my $8.51 cold pressed juice would beg to differ. I grabbed a “good day” (green apple, ginger, carrot, lime), which is a promising shade of orange, but unfortunately tastes of nothing so much as pure, unadulterated ginger (and also health and money). In a brilliant and witty joke, its back proclaims, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A man walks into Dig Inn and reads the back of a juice. It starts out alright but the ending is just random and weird. Eggplant.” Okay. If you say so.
After ogling the samples, I’m excited for the mac and cheese, which looks to die for (not using this as an expression right now. The way it looked, I literally would have given up my life for a taste), as well as the sautéed kale and roasted sweet potatoes. Yet the first bite of the mac and cheese has an odd taste, and an even odder aftertaste, with notes of the sort of sweetness you just don’t want in your “Hudson valley mac.” The kale is lackluster, but the sweet potatoes are indeed exceptional, with the skin perfectly crispy and the innards nicely soft.
From here on, it’s an all-out free-for-all, with around eight plates circulating around as many friendly Bwoggers and forks traversing all sort of personal boundaries. Though the quinoa and butternut squash was nowhere to be found, the broccoli with roasted garlic and almonds was indeed unreal – colder than expected, but fresh and somehow slightly lemony. The Brussels sprouts killed, as did the meatballs and the salmon. Protein-wise, much was good, except the turkey, which was (almost) universally decried as dry and flavorless (one Bwog editor found it satisfying but she also approved of the breakfast bars, which were also almost universally considered banana nut bars but bad). All was well, however, on the cookie front (arguably all that matters). The oatmeal chocolate chip was solid with a nice texture – chewy but not too chewy – and the brown butter salt was truly divine. At first the salt feels like too much, but then the butter kicks in and it is genuinely a semi-religious experience.
For future reference, one of the signatures of Dig Inn in general is the build-your-own-plate option, which lets you pick your own protein, veggies, and sides. Small plates run about $7, and big plates set you back about $9, with approximately twice the amount of protein. The menu also includes chocolate covered bananas, hot soup, cold juice, and shakes varying from standard chocolate to apple avocado.
THE ENVIRONMENT/OVERALL VIBES
The seventh of its kind, the chain’s not necessarily cheap so much as just another option in the endless food cycle of Boringside Heights (here’s looking at you, Columbia Cottage), but considering the physical proximity, the overlap between clientele and your average Columbia student,if that exists, and the amount of hype already generated, it might very well replace Milano as your go-to quick food/boredom eating/avoiding Ferris spot. They take flex and are literally next door, and also, they deliver. I’d say, “say goodbye to your waistline,” but they’re too damn healthy for that. How bad can spinach be, anyway?.
Tomorrow brings opening day, with a “pay what you want” policy and proceeds going to FoodFight, specifically “a school between 125th and 140th,” and staff expects things to get “pretty crazy, but like good crazy, you know?” There are some standout dishes certainly, but definitely room for improvement. That said, $7 still gets you a damn decent meal, and those brown butter salt cookies might possibly even replace Westside cookies (maybe? Possibly? Is this sacrilege?). At a cozy three blocks from College Walk, get ready to dig in at Dig Inn!