A short list on the side of the menu at Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar names the kitchen’s favorite farms and purveyors. This now common practice establishes a restaurant’s good-faith effort to source the best ingredients out there, perhaps local or organic.
But here we get a shoutout to Maple Leaf Farms, which you may know as North America’s largest provider of frozen and processed duck. This behemoth of quackage works with more than 150 suppliers and has partnered with a poultry producer in Shandong province, China. Drawing attention to Maple Leaf Farms duck is like bragging on Hillshire Farms sausage. Decent products, but . . .
Fig Jam tries very hard to walk the walk and talk the talk. It calls out its suppliers. It pours craft cocktails to tipple with cured meat boards, artisan cheeses and small plates. It displays stacks of firewood and fashions its chairs from rough-hewn wooden planking. Every detail here sets the stage for a modern American tavern with a sense of Southern place. Atlantans, with their hollow leg for bourbon cocktails and tasty pig parts, love this business.
Yet despite the trappings, Fig Jam is no American tavern. Chef Costanzo Astarita (one of the owners of hotspot Baraonda down the street) prepares an all-over-the-place menu that seems more Euro tapas bar than Southern public house. Rather than conjuring any sense of place, this cooking presents an eclectic free-for-all of unrelated ideas, and the finished plates often belie their menu descriptions. I have liked some of the dishes — and I can see how neighbors and shoppers trolling for a quick meal could learn to use and enjoy this spot. But, good grief, this is a real head-scratcher of a restaurant.
You can’t blame Astarita and his partners, Mario Maccarrone and Alin Cruceanu, for trying to put their spin on a popular format. When this team first took over this former Wolfgang Puck Express in South Buckhead, they attempted a near clone of Baraonda called Baroni, with a menu focused on pizza and pasta. When that didn’t pan out, they took another shot.
The menu here offers small, medium and large plates as well as a variety of signature flatbreads — giving diners the option to share or not. But if they are going to serve small plates, then they might consider investing in actual small plates: When two of us order five to share, we shouldn’t have to move to a larger table because the glossy, oversized china crowds the scene. That, or they might consider coursing out the food.
But we’re happy to dig into steamed Manila clams with cubes of spicy chorizo in a buttery, soppable sauce ($10). Lamb belly offers plenty of tender, fat-braised meat with a gamy flavor that cottons to its sweet bourbon-maple glaze and pickled vegetable garnish.
Just one strange thing: The meat is on a bone. I may have fallen asleep in my ovine anatomy class, but I’m not sure lamb bellies have bones. Might it be lamb breast or short rib?
The kitchen plays fast and loose with the menu at times. Our bowl of marcona almonds and olives ($6) contains no almonds. The waiter whisks it away when we point this out, only to return with a larger heap of olives. Guess what? No almonds.
The mini cheddar cheese sandwich ($4) brings a panini sloppily cut into bite-size pieces as you might prepare it for a toddler. The strange little dish of spicy apple chutney on the side seems an interloper.
Hot crab dip ($7) brings a cream-cheesy goo with not-quite-toasted almond slivers and wedges of naan to frost. Chicken skewers ($6), tender and well-cooked, don’t benefit from either the astringent mango relish beneath them or the grainy apple curry atop.
The more shareable plates crowd about, the more this restaurant doesn’t work. By the time a dry, chewy tangle of charred octopus legs ($10) with giant white beans and arugula finds a corner of the table, you may hit a food-confusion wall.
You might opt for actual entrees from the “large plates.” A Mediterranean seafood stew ($21) brings gobs of calamari, mussels, clams, shrimp and a fillet of seared fish in a spicy (if pasty) tomato broth. A Maple Leaf Farms duck confit leg ($16) over plain cubed beets and parsnips has a clean presence, and satisfies when you’re watching your carbs and your wallet. I probably wouldn’t shell out the $26 for a large, flat ribeye steak that arrives limp and uncharred off the grill.
But, really, this kitchen has a far better feel for Italian-style snack items. We didn’t try the meat and cheese boards, but they feature Italian prosciutto, La Quercia domestic coppa, Humboldt Fog cheese, Rogue River smoked blue cheese and other yummies. The flatbreads — including one with lamb sausage and feta ($10) and the other with steak, gorgonzola and caramelized onion ($12) — bring just the sharp, cheesy flavors you want to wash down with a glass of wine when you don’t feel like thinking about food. The one pasta, a generous portion of overstuffed mushroom ravioli with marsala cream sauce ($14), tries awfully hard to be liked, and succeeds.
The cocktail program, on the other hand, has more convincing to do. I liked well enough the five or six sips of Penicillin ($10) — a Dewar’s Scotch concoction goosed with lemon and ginger and served over ice in a sherry glass. I didn’t care much for the sweet mixture of Rittenhouse Rye and Cherry Heering called the Prince of Wales ($10) and served in a brandy snifter. Both seemed slight and forgettable — particularly when the wine list offers several Italian bottles for less than $35. Fig Jam won’t be a place where I’ll work up a serious bar bill trying the house cocktails.
But I might give it another spin if I’m in the neighborhood and need a quick, low-stress meal. I’ll just have to remember to read this overly ambitious menu with blinders on.Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar 1745 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-724-9100 Food: Hard to define. Eclectic and bar-friendly fare. Service: Very nice but can be a bit rough around the edges. Best dishes: Flatbreads, sliders, duck confit, lamb appetizer Vegetarian selections: Yes Credit cards: All major Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays; 5-11:00 p.m. Saturdays; 4-10 p.m. Sundays. Children: Fine Parking: Self-parking in attached lot Reservations: Yes Wheelchair access: Full Smoking: No Noise level: Moderate Patio: Yes Takeout: Yes