These days it is easy to find a restaurant touting a focus on locally produced ingredients and farm-to-table freshness. More difficult is finding one that executes that philosophy as well as Fig Café & Wine Bar in Wake Forest.
From appetizer through dessert you can see the moment the food arrives at your table that it is prepared with careful attention. At dinner, take the Fig Caesar salad: It is served under a handcrafted parmesan cracker that is wafer thin and delicious by itself. The cooks roll the crackers flat, bake them and then take advantage of a one-minute window to shape them by hand into an arch.
The salad itself features a bed of romaine that tastes as if it was just harvested that morning, with a dressing that screams homemade thanks to the distinctiveness of each flavor and its non-pureed consistency and, fetchingly placed in a corner of the plate, a morsel of salty white anchovy that even wowed a non-anchovy eater with its fresh taste. Perhaps the only way it could be better would be with just a tad less dressing, considering its richness.
The farm greens salad is also an excellent starter. The summer version featured tiny marbles of watermelon for juicy bites of flavor. Its counterpart on the fall menu, which just launched, loses the melon and adds walnuts and cheese for a hearty taste.
The beef and barley dish sits on mounds of barley encircled by thinly sliced onion. The beef is seared with a crispy outside and a juicy center.
Fig's menu changes every four to six weeks based on what ingredients are in season. A stellar entry on the current menu is the "Dry Dock sea scallops," seared on one side but almost sushi-like on the other. They arrive atop a bed of white beans, a touch of spinach for structure and thinly sliced fennel. The flavors mesh perfectly.
The person behind the desserts is Tana Fox, who, along with her sister Teresa, co-owns Fig. Teresa teaches at the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes of Raleigh-Durham.
The apple tart with caramel smells sinfully good but tastes heavenly. The German chocolate cupcake will satisfy almost anyone. Southerners will wonder if their grandmother is hiding in the kitchen making the red velvet cupcakes. They are moist, with a nicely balanced cream cheese frosting.
One of Tana Fox's areas of expertise is wine. In one corner, Fig features Enomatic—a self-serve wine bar. Three machines each contain four bottles of wine. You tell your server how much money to load on your wine card and he or she brings it to you. You're all set: Each bottle has three corresponding buttons: a 1-ounce sample pour, a half-glass and a full glass. It is a stress-free way to sample various wines. Not that you would, but if you wanted to you could taste every bottle for a total of $20.
Fig's lunch menu includes soups, salads and sandwiches. Keep an eye out for the curried chicken salad sandwich on chapatti flatbread—a blend of golden raisins, walnuts and just the right amount of curry make it a fine choice.
And from 7–10 a.m., morning commuters can zip in the drive-thru for specialty coffees and assorted baked goods, including a blueberry muffin densely packed with fresh blueberries.
After multiple visits, my only quibble is unrelated to the food. One afternoon while diners were eating in one room, it was jarring to see a server putting chairs upside down on the tables of an empty dining room in order to sweep. A necessity perhaps, but it felt out of place for an establishment that hits so many correct notes.
Fig Café & Wine Bar is located in a converted house, with hardwood floors, finished beams, fireplace, wood tabletops and painted green chairs. It has a charming, cozy feel, which is appropriate because the staff is so welcoming that you feel as if you're a houseguest.
On one occasion a father was there with his daughter for her birthday lunch. The chef brought them a bit of gazpacho—on the house—while they perused the menu. Another time, Tana Fox, after seating a family, spent several minutes offering suggestions for a kid-friendly meal.
Every server I encountered was attentive, knowledgeable about the menu and willing to offer suggestions.
The chef frequently made his way through the dining rooms, checking to ensure people are enjoying their food. He didn't traipse through with a perfunctory "How was your meal?" and move to the next table before there is time for an answer. He lingered and answered questions. He explained why a dish is cooked the way it is. He asked what you thought of particular ingredients in a dish. Such obvious regard for the guest's experience will make you want to return. The food on your plate will guarantee that you will.