What's that saying about the solution being right under our noses? That's precisely where Flying Fig chef and owner Karen Small discovered the remedy for a tricky little pickle. For years, Small had been scouring the urban landscape for the perfect location to open a gourmet retail market. Like the proverbial Goldilocks Principle, each and every one proved to be too big, too small, too expensive, or too remote.
And then, as Small describes it, a light went off in her head. "I thought, I have this other room with a separate entrance that gets used maybe once a week," she says, referring to the Fig's private dining room. "And it already has a kitchen." That kitchen, of course, is the one attached to her restaurant.
Private dining rooms — "PDRs" in the biz — are akin to those hideous wool sweaters from Grandma: They get used only around the holidays. The Flying Fig used its PDR only for overflow dining on weekend nights. But the type of gourmet market that Small envisioned would be open all day, every day, generating business even when the restaurant wasn't.
It's been six weeks since Small opened Market at the Fig, and the chef has not looked back. The European-style shop offers a deft mix of prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches, specialty retail products, and beer and wine. It brings to the street — and the neighborhood — something unique, functional, and delicious. There is no shortage of restaurants in Ohio City, but there is a dearth of quick-casual joints from which to grab quality grub.
When Karen Small makes a sandwich, it's safe to assume that it won't share much in common with those we throw together at home. Take the smoked pork ($8). I know, right now some of you are thinking eight bucks for a sandwich? Better be filled with gold. Well, in a way, it is: Stuffed to the rafters with rosy folds of luscious smoked pork, the sandwich is a jaw-breaker. Fat slabs of stinky Italian taleggio top the meat, while a sweet fig jam and pickled-fennel relish coat the bread. That bread, by the way, is house-baked focaccia gilded with caramelized onions.
Tuna fish? In the Market's version ($8), Small swaps the StarKist for fine olive oil-packed Spanish white tuna. The creamy salad, studded with perky capers and crisp local veggies, is spooned into a fresh-baked roll along with greens. But the best of the bunch is the Italian-style cured meats ($9), a flavor bomb layered with La Quercia American prosciutto, chorizo-like salami, coppa, aged provolone, and roasted red pepper dressing. Others include grilled eggplant with fresh mozzarella ($8), local farm egg salad ($8), and Ohio grass-fed roast beef with horseradish and Ohio cheddar ($8.50). Sandwiches come swaddled in brown craft paper bundled with twine. Adorable.
In the prepared-foods cooler are salads, sides, and mains sold by the pound. This is where you'll find heat-and-eat entrées like Ohio pork porchetta, Ohio barbecue beef, veal ricotta meatballs, or bacon, egg, and cheese quiche. Vividly fresh sides range from vegetarian couscous ($7/lb.) and farro with dried fruit ($8/lb.) to paella salad with chicken confit ($8/lb.). Everything, from the sandwiches to entrées, changes on a regular basis.
Like Market Avenue Wine Bar next door, this market also sells retail wine — but longer hours of operation and a better display give it an edge. Hand selected, and offered at state minimum prices, the wines are a godsend for anybody looking for a quick hostess gift. Better still, grab a bottle ($10 corkage), baguette, and hunk of artisanal American cheese and enjoy the European feast on the Fig patio.
In the specialty-foods department are gourmet chips, jarred house-made pickles and jams, tins of that great Spanish tuna, and even a dozen farm-fresh eggs. Large-format beers — those 22-ouncers — give Small the flexibility to offer tastes from lesser-seen producers.
Any snafus so far likely would relate to speed. It takes time to craft these masterpieces. But for the Market to become a well-trafficked lunch choice, the tempo must increase. Small plans to offer more grab-and-go options, which should keep this Fig flying just fine.
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