The Salty Fig Joins Riverside Gastropub Scene: This Should Be Gastrofun

Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in Dining, Jacksonville | No Comments

The following review is an unabridged version of the same review posted to Yelp.com on January 4, 2013. 

I love staycations and take them often. One of my favorite rituals is to hit up as many new and/or exotic lunching spots as possible … as in the ones you can’t shoe-horn into a neat and tidy workday lunch hour.

“Practicality be damned!” I exclaimed (to myself, of course … in my own head) as I eyed my meeting-free (and office-free for that matter) New Year’s week on Monday. Sure, there’s a certain Christmas tree to deconstruct, a Meat-Hair to finish and lots of wedding odds and ends. But would that deter me from my gastro-challenge? Nah … I skipped breakfast for this one.

My Friday destination was The Salty Fig, 901 King Street in Jacksonville’s burgeoning Park and King dining and nightlife district. This self-billed “southern gastropub” was on my A-list well before its food truck mama, established in July, birthed a brick-and-mortar baby brother on December 30. It’s within pint-hurling distance from another gastropub known well in these parts … Kickbacks.

Salty Fig KitchenI arrived about 12:30, which I figured would be wall-to-wall. I was pleasantly (and I’ll admit, suspiciously) surprised to find a brisk if not bursting dining room. Apparently not all of the “lunch crowd” is back from holiday vacations. Tables for one are hard on everyone, so I grabbed a spot at the “Kitchen Bar” in the rear, in a setup similar to what Pele’s Wood Fire does just a few blocks down King. As the name connotes, this is where the magic happens. It was nice to be on top of the action, but if I was dining with another the noise factor might have been distracting. It didn’t interrupt the voices in my head, though.

The pagelong menu (with half-sheet addendum for desserts) boasts soups and salads, starters, shareables, handhelds (sandwiches and burgers) and sides. Sadly I didn’t snap a photo of it, and it’s not yet posted on a website (still under construction). I ordered a Diet Coke (yeah, they serve Coca-Cola products, and not even Coke Zero on fountain … gotta work on this, Jacksonville restaurants!) and Jordan, my server, promptly delivered my sparkling liquid caffeine fix.

Remember … I skipped breakfast, not because I was preparing my body for an invasion of gastro goodies, but because I woke up late and wasn’t up for my daily omelet construction. So hunger gnawed from below in a slow bellow. I ordered a cup of the Roasted Tomato Bisque ($4, or $6 for the bowl), The Melt ($10), a conflagration of roasted veggies on toast, and substituted a bowl of Stone Ground Goat Cheese Grits ($4 a la carte) for the obligatory side (choice of pommes frites or dressed greens).

Salty Fig - Roasted Tomato BisqueThe Bisque, bright orange (or red if you’re not colorblind, probably), creamy and smooth, was apropos for the blustery afternoon. The roasted tomatoes were fresh and bold but didn’t overperform in the tang department. It did its job competently, which is all I expect from a bisque. The Melt was served on toast with plenty of artichokes, grape tomatoes, arugula and other treats bubbling up around the edges. It was refreshingly not over the top on volume. The grape tomatoes stole the show here. I’m not sure what they used to marinade them, but I’ll go back until I find out.

Salty Fig - The Melt with Dressed Greens and Stone Ground Goat Cheese GritsAlthough I had requested the grits to sub in for the dressed greens, a leafy smattering accompanied my sandwich, and I’m glad they tagged along. The arugula and onion slices were dressed in a snazzy Italian-type dressing that was magically addictive. A quick shout-out to the kitchen guys three feet away summoned the magical missing grits. They were awesomely consistent in color and texture, not oozing with cheddar lava like some places would do and thus not overpowering the grittiness of the grits themselves.

When all was said and done, I had an empty plate, a third glass of Diet Coke (with a fourth in a to-go cup on the way!) and a check for $17.66. So yeah, you can run up a silly lunch tab here, but I suspect the lunchtime norm is more like $12. I struck up a conversation with the co-owner, Jeff Stanford, who was chopping veggies on the cutting board in front of me. He told me about how they built out the location from nothingness and wrestled with preparing the proper volume of food for the day. For not even a week in, Jeff, y’all are on the right track, and I’ll be back.

The Salty Fig has a junior-size parking lot in the rear (entrance off College), and of course you can wrestle for a spot along King with patrons of Kickbacks and The Loft. They’re open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and, rumor has it, will be working on a brunch menu, along with getting their food truck back into circulation by February. Call 904.337.0146 or visit facebook.com/TheSaltyFig for all the social media hype.

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