DIRT Ballston: Talk DIRTy To Me

When I first hear about this new “counter-casual” spot in Ballston, I’m not sure what to think. The restaurant’s name is DIRT.  Is that appealing?  And what do they mean by counter-casual?  How is that different from fast-casual, fine casual, or formal casual*?

After eating at DIRT Ballston during a preview, I have the answers I’m seeking. Bottom line.  More DIRT please.

DIRT’s motto is actually “Eat Clean” and the concept is a mash up of cuisines with food that is fresh, local, healthy, and tasty. I find myself thinking these words after every dish, until it becomes kind of a mantra.   

Here’s the dirt: The idea germinated from co-founder Jeff LaTulippe, who left his career in finance to open a restaurant that would reflect his desire to eat mindfully and healthily without sacrificing flavor. The first location opened in Sunset Harbor in Miami Beach, followed by a second spot in Miami.

You don’t have to dig deep to see what DIRT is about.

“DIRT is where clean eating and great taste coexist. We are a “counter casual”, all-day dining experience combining fresh, healthy-ish food with convenience and simplicity. We believe in high-quality, nutritious food, served quickly and affordably.”

Within five months of opening DIRT in 2016, the restaurant was named “Best New Concept” in South Florida by StarChefs. The idea had clearly taken root.

LaTulippe has lived in the DC area, and his wife is from Silver Spring, and so after experiencing success in South Florida they began to search for locations here.  They ultimately settled on Ballston because it felt like there was a real sense of community, which resonates with them, and is important to their business model.

DIRT promotes “Transparency from the Ground Up.”  When you’re in the restaurant, a Farms + Friends map illustrates where your food comes from.  A few notable locally-based sources for DIRT Ballston:  3 Stars Brewing, ANXO Cidery, Call Your Mother, Craft Kombucha, Hummingbird Farms, Ice Cream Jubilee, Little Wild Things Farm, Pluma by Bluebird Bakery, Sticky Fingers, and Trickling Springs Creamery.  And this is just a sampling of an impressive list of artisanal food producers and farms.

DIRT Ballston map
Photo by
Mojalvo

Vegetarians, vegans, gluten free diners, calorie counters, paleo dieters, locavores, herbivores, and carnivores will love it here. Have I left anybody out?  Probably not and that’s the point. The menu offers an abundance of options to meet a broad range of dietary needs, most of which are easily adaptable to suit anyone’s preferences or restrictions. 

DIRT Ballston is open from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm, which means you can start or end your day with toast. Yo Soy Edamame is a mash-up (literally) of edamame, burrata, heirloom tomatoes and pea tendrils on country sourdough bread. Remember the mantra- fresh, local, healthy, and tasty? Yep- here it is. 

DIRT Ballston Yo Soy Edamame
DIRT Ballston Yo Soy Edamame

Have you been pining for a bagel from Call Your Mother?  Get it at DIRT Ballston, topped with local strawberry or ginger compote or a shmear of vegan Kite Hill cream cheese.

Diners will likely plant themselves here on a regular basis for the DIRTy burger. If you’re a meat-eater go for the grass-fed version, although the vegan Impossible Burger is equally swoon-worthy. The protein is bolstered by tomato, cheese (provolone or vegan cheddar), sautéed onions, spicy vegan cashew chipotle sauce, and Gordy’s pickles.

DIRT Ballston Impossible Burger
Photo by Leandro Lagera

Steak and cheese with a healthy bent is pretty irresistible. Shredded steak meets provolone, peppers and onions, horseradish Greek yogurt, and brioche or rustico bread.  Avoiding carbs?  Skip the bread and try a collard green wrap instead. Many of the sandwiches can be wrapped in greens, which makes them pretty, not to mention lighter.

DIRT Ballston DIRTy Steak + Cheese
DIRT Ballston DIRTy Steak + Cheese

Want salad? Mexi-Cali commingles chopped arugula, feta, avocado mash, tostada crumbles, tomatoes, quinoa, house-made jalapeno-cucumber vinaigrette, and DIRTy de gallo.

Bowls span the globe. Bombay bowl features curried cauliflower, Chimayo Chili is strewn with sweet potatoes, heirloom beans, lentils and stewed tomatoes, and Spring Poke has line-caught citrus marinated raw tuna.

Yes, there are salads, sandwiches, bowls and toasts. But DIRT Ballston’s menu is grounded in reality, and so those seeking a heartier meal will depart equally fulfilled.

One example- Spring DIRTy bird- an 18 oz. bone-in chicken leg sprinkled with a house-made spice mix and accompanied by earthy edamame mashed potatoes, lemon roasted asparagus and local heirloom tomatoes. The bird is topped with honey cashew Dijon glaze and Little Wild Things Farm pea tendrils. This should be a keeper on the menu, modified to fit the season.

DIRT Ballston Spring DIRTy bird
DIRT Ballston Spring DIRTy bird

A side of glossy vegan creamed spinach is nearly ground-breaking , with house-made garlic cashew cream and almond “parmesan” subbing for dairy products.

There’s an entire DRINK DIRT menu with concoctions that range from coffees, smoothies, vegan “mylkshakes,” organic teas, house-made lemonades, kombucha (on tap) along with craft beers and sustainable wines. 

In Miami, DIRT cultivated numerous collaborations with fitness studios and lifestyle brands for wellness events paired with food.  Look for more of the same at DIRT Ballston with companies like Gold’s Gym, Orange Theory, and Soul Cycle already on board.

And what about that counter casual concept?  The term may be novel but it’s been done before (i.e. Nando’s), and it’s a nice hybrid. Order at the counter and your food is brought to the table. No self-bussing required. Your food is served on real plates with silverware and linen napkins. 

The décor at DIRT Ballston is an appealing mix of concrete, steel, wood, and subway tiles with pops of green. Potted plants means there’s real dirt at DIRT Ballston. And how can you not love a wall emboldened with the words Eat Clean. Talk Dirty.

DIRT Ballston interior

Photo by
Mojalvo
DIRT Ballston Eat Clean

Photo by
Mojalvo

There is a lot of growth in Ballston at the moment, particularly when it comes to casual (fast, fine, or counter) dining options. Add DIRT Ballston to your list, because you’re going to want to get DIRTy.

DIRT Ballston, 4121 Wilson Boulevard, #102B, Arlington, Virginia

*What Do Diners Think of D.C.’s New Formula-Breaking ‘Fast Fine’ Restaurants? by Laura Hayes, Washington City Paper

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