Time to “Dig” in: New plant-based eatery wows

Ever since Dig Foods Café opened in Jacksonville, Florida, in May of this year, the peanut gallery has been relentless: “Have you been to Dig yet?” “We should really go to Dig, like soon!” “You have to go to Dig; it’s awesome!”

Well, we figured that unless owner and chef Sean Sigmon had suffered some rare form of amnesia that affected his masterful chefly skills, it would be awesome—but downtown is a long trek from TOA headquarters for a weekday lunch-only spot. However, when popular demand caused a June shift to Tuesday through Saturday hours, the time had come.

The TOA crew ventured over to 113 East Bay Street a few Saturdays ago, reflecting all the way on that “popular demand.” We recounted sold-out, intriguingly themed brunches at Bold Bean, well-received popup and charity events and, of course, the grilled pizzas that were snapped up as fast as Sigmon could make them on Tuesday nights at Intuition Ale Works.

Dig owner and chef Sean Sigmon at a 2012 benefit dinner.

The key to Sigmon’s success seems to be that he applies his magic touch to fresh, local, seasonal, organic ingredients and eschews animal products—an approach that a huge part of the Jacksonville population has been yearning for. The refrain from the peanut gallery back then was “Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a restaurant without having to worry about whether or not something was cooked in butter?” and “Ack! A vegan restaurant just opened in (pick a city). Why can’t we have that?!” So for Sigmon, it was really either open a restaurant or wake up chained to somebody’s stove.

An example of the local, organic food Sigmon might work with. This bounty comes from KYV Farm, which is accepting CSA memberships now.

Now we do have “that.” A healthy (and cruelty-free) gourmet-casual restaurant has finally come to Jacksonville! The first thing you notice about Dig is that it’s actually inside the entertainment venue Underbelly. A section of the space has been curtained off for the café’s cozy booths and tables-for-four. Everything, even the hostess stand on wheels, has a reclaimed/homemade look to it. Someone has a bit of low-overhead genius in them! And we’re not sure exactly what the arrangement is between Dig and Underbelly, but putting an existing space to multiple uses is always a beautiful thing, environmentally speaking.

We love that you can choose your entree portion size and that Dig works with other local businesses like vegan bakery Sweet Theory!

Being nostalgic types, our crew already had their hearts set on the grilled pizzas, but we did manage to branch out and start with the carrot and ginger soup of the day. The fact that it was a chilled soup was an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise in the heat of the day. The flavors were perfectly balanced – not too much ginger, not too much carrot – and the texture was pure silk. It didn’t even last long enough for a photo! We should have ordered the bowl instead of the cup.

So many delicious choices!

The arrival of the pizzas brought back everyone’s crust envy. How that man gets grilled, thin-crust pizza dough so fluffy, with just the right touch of crispiness, has got to involve the dark arts. The margherita pizza’s fantastic homemade sauce, decadent cashew cheeze and sprinkle of basil always disappears fast. But the sweet potato and kalamata olive pizza, with its complementary textures, held its own. No one could choose a favorite!

Pizza perfection!

The crew was full, but the mutiny of those who’d been convinced to skip the popular farm chop salad and the spaghetti squash with roasted eggplant special in favor of the pizzas was imminent, so we made a peace offering of the homemade lemon cornmeal cake with fresh blueberries and coconut cream. What an ideal dessert! Once again, Sigmon’s genius at balancing flavors, letting each one shine, was on display. The double slice of cake had just a hint of crust to it, while the inside was moist. It didn’t suffer from over-sweetness either, as do too many restaurant desserts. Instead, it shone in a sandwich of sweetness from the coconut cream on the plate and tartness from the berries on top.

A little fuzzy, but we were full up to our eyeballs with pizza by then!

While we’re excited that Jacksonville finally has an animal product-free eatery, the food is simply fantastic regardless of your dietary choices. But what is the peanut gallery saying now? “You know that list everyone has of great restaurants you have to take family and friends who are visiting from out of town to? Dig is at the top of my list now!” Yeah, it’s like that.

Dig Foods is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Go.

P.S. Want more? Read other reviews of Dig Foods Café on Urban Spoon: Dig Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon

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