Dining Review

Pastry case, atmosphere are inviting at Fig Cafe & Wine Bar

CorrespondentApril 18, 2013 

  • Fig Café & Wine Bar

    1248 S. Main St., Wake Forest

    919-562-9463

    figcafewinebar.com

    Cuisine: American

    Rating: * * 1/2

    Prices: $$

    Atmosphere: inviting and homey in a converted 1930 Craftsman cottage

    Noise level: low to moderate

    Service: small-town friendly and attentive

    Recommended: goat-cheese mousse, hanger steak, sandwiches, desserts

    Open: Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. NOTE: As of April 29, Fig Café will be closed on Mondays. Beginning May 5, the restaurant will serve brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Reservations: accepted

    Other: beer and wine; accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; patio (covered porch); parking in lot.

    The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: *  *  *  *  *  Extraordinary

    *  *  *  *  Excellent. *  *  *  Above average. *  *  Average. *  Fair.

    The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

As you head south out of historic downtown Wake Forest on Main Street, the 1930 Craftsman cottage that has housed Fig Café since last summer beckons to you with vintage charm. On the front porch, clusters of people sipping wine under ceiling fans add to the allure.

Who could resist?

Just inside the door, you’re warmly greeted by a server behind a counter where a pastry display case leaves no doubt as to whether you’ll be having dessert. Chalkboards on the walls behind the counter list today’s sweet tooth temptations, as well as locally roasted coffee and espresso drinks.

You’re gratified – but not surprised, given the setting – at the small-town friendliness of the staff and the homey feel of the dining rooms. You’re escorted to a table in the front room, whose cozy comforts include a fireplace and a couple of recliners by a window.

If the Enomatic wine dispensing machines in the next room seem at first out of place, you’ll soon get over it. These self-serve units preserve a thoughtfully chosen and reasonably priced selection of 12 bottles of wine at their optimal temperature and freshness, and dispense them in precise pours of 1.5, four and six ounces. The 1.5 ounce option is just right for sampling.

The dispensers are operated by a wine card, which your server will sell you in the denomination you choose (and, you’ll be thankful to know, can be recharged). She’ll explain how the system works, but she may forget to tell you that the wines are also available by the old-fashioned bottle or waiter-delivered glass.

To pair with your wine choice, the menu offers a modest but varied selection of appetizers, salads and small plates. Two or three homemade soups are typically on offer, with options ranging from tomato bisque to a recent cream of asparagus that was so good it sold out in a couple of hours.

Butternut squash soup with roasted garlic in a chicken broth base delivers a puree of flavors, and is mercifully sparing of the pie spices that too often make this sort of soup taste more like a dessert. On the down side, Fig’s rendition is so thick it could almost be served as a vegetable side dish. A little more broth would be welcome.

Simplicity is the rule for a selection of starters clearly designed as nibbles for pairing with wines. On a list that ranges from flatbreads (cheese, chicken and roasted cremini mushrooms, or butternut squash) to warm Mediterranean olives, goat cheese mousse topped with port-steeped figs stands out. So does a small plate of bruschetta smeared with house-made pimento cheese, crispy prosciutto and hot pepper jam.

Small-plate portions are more substantial than traditional tapas, and would in fact make a good light entree. Hanger steak, cooked medium-rare as the menu promises (unless you specify otherwise) and judiciously sauced with a port wine reduction, is a winning option.

Butter-poached shrimp and grits, punctuated with roasted mushrooms, sage bacon, come close to the mark. Only soupy grits prevented this one from scoring a bull’s-eye recently. A little less broth would be welcome.

These and other small plates on the current menu – shepherd’s pie, chicken Marsala, and a vegetarian winter couscous – may no longer be available when the spring menu comes out on May 1. Then you can look for lighter fare with a greater emphasis on local produce, including chilled soups, new seafood dishes, and more vegetarian options.

The spring menu will be the first one entirely developed by chef Matt Alonso, who has been in the Fig kitchen for only a couple of months. Consistency should improve as Alonso gets settled in.

In the meantime, you can feel comfortable taking your pick from that pastry display case. The handiwork of owner/pastry chef Tana Fox, temptations include a mouthwatering assortment of cakes and cupcakes, cookies, homemade pop tarts and a first-rate individual apple tart with caramel.

The versatile Fox also curates the wine list. She’s almost always in the restaurant, and is happy to help you in making a selection.

Fig Café has quickly become a popular lunch spot, with salads and sandwiches the main attraction. You can get that homemade pimento cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich. Tarragon chicken salad with dried cranberries is right for small appetites, and a Fire Pit bratwurst on a pretzel bun will do the trick for larger ones. Either way, you’ll still want to take a look at that pastry case.

If you didn’t notice it on your way in, you’ll probably spot the menu board for Fig’s drive-through window on your out. Offering pastries and coffee drinks, the window is open 7 a.m.-10 a.m. It’s a convenient option for locals, but if you’re driving in from out of town you’ll no doubt be dining in.

After all, who could resist?

ggcox@bellsouth.net or blogs@newsobserver.com/mouthful

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