Listen to Billy Joel’s 1983 doo wop hit Uptown Girl and you’ll probably get the impression that uptown is synonymous with uppity or at least upscale. The lyrics describe a working-class downtown man (ostensibly Joel himself who’s originally from blue-collar Long Island) trying to win the heart of a wealthy, white bred uptown girl (Joel’s future wife Christie Brinkley). The perception of uptown’s haughtiness were reenforced in “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld in which John F. Kennedy, Jr. lived in trendy uptown. When they finally came into money, the Jefferson’s moved on up, too.
Until just a few years ago, the Albuquerque neighborhoods around which conversations typically centered were Old Town, downtown, Nob Hill and even EDo (East Downtown). Uptown was solely where the Coronado and Winrock Malls were. With the closure of the Winrock Mall and subsequent launch of ABQ Uptown, a pedestrian-friendly, open-air lifestyle center, Albuquerque’s uptown area seemingly became “the heart of the city’s modern shopping and business district.”
Though it may appear national chains such as the Elephant Bar, Dave & Buster’s, Bonefish Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill dominate the uptown culinary landscape, actually only 45 percent of the uptown area’s 75 restaurants are national chains. Local mom-and-pop restaurants continue to thrive against the onslaught of deep-pocketed corporate competition. Enter into the fray Fork & Fig, a modern eatery which opened its doors just before the calendar flipped to February, 2015.
Fork & Fig is an exemplar of locally owned and operated. After having worked as a personal chef in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Josh Kennon, a Deming native credentialed at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, decided to try his hand at owning and operating his own restaurant. Though Fork & Fig specializes in gourmet burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads, you can also get more substantial offerings (such as steak) on a take-out basis. The restaurant, which has neither a freezer or a fryer, emphasizes fresh, local ingredients.
Compared with some of the megalithic chains in the area, Fork & Fig is practically Lilliputian, seating only 40 patrons in its 1,500 square-foot space. Diminutive, however, doesn’t mean dull and drab. Fork & Fig is a hip and happening venue sure to excite both even the most discerning palates. Seating is in personal space proximity (which means you have a good view of what’s being delivered to your neighbors’ tables) with bar-like seating overlooking an exhibition prep kitchen and, when they’re not swamped, you can even interact with the chefs.
In Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “Best of the City” peoples’ choice poll for 2015, Fork & Fig was named “Best New Restaurant.” That’s quite an honor considering the high quality of new restaurants launched in 2015. In January, 2017, Fork & Fig was one of a handful of Duke City eateries highlighted by Young Professionals of Albuquerque for inclusion in list naming “5 Eateries Perfect For Your Lunch Break.” Since its launch, Fork & Fig has remained a consistent presence on Yelp’s list of “best restaurants in Albuquerque.” It’s certainly a restaurant going places.
If there’s one thing a smallish restaurant with no freezer and no fryer can’t do, it’s be all things to all people. It makes better sense to focus on a select few items and prepare them exceptionally well. The few, the proud, the delicious at Fork & Fig is comprised of eight sandwiches (Sammys), five burgers (Burgs), three wraps, three greens (salads), five sides, a sour du jour and a dessert du jour as well. With the Sammys, Burgs and Wraps, you also receive one side (Cotija corn, grilled zucchini, potato gnocchi, cherry tomato salad, green chile slaw). Please note that because of menu rotation, some of the items described below may not be available when you visit.
8 February 2015: It’s probably not polite to drool when servers deliver a meal to your neighbors, but such is the hazard of close proximity seating. The burgers, in particular, are drool-worthy. They’re skyscraper tall with thick beef patties topped with sundry ingredients and imagination. Sometimes, however, you feel like a burger and sometimes you don’t. In the rare latter event, it’s nice to know you can find something as good as the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich (four cheeses, tomato fig relish and bacon on Hawaiian bread). This magnificent melange of sweet, unctuous and smoky deliciousness is indeed an all grown up version of the sandwich we all loved as children. The Cotija corn, a grilled ear of corn topped with shredded Cotija cheese) is a terrific foil.
8 February 2015: Save for the sacrosanct green chile Philly at Philly’s N’ Fries, I’m at a loss to recall a single transformative or even memorable steak sandwich in the Duke City. Fork & Fig’s Ribeye Sammy (ribeye, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda and creamy chimichurri on a ciabatta bun) aims to change my thinking. The ribeye is on the thin side (similar to a Mexican steak), but it’s tender and nary fat nor sinew rear their yucky presence. The chimichurri is indeed creamy, but a bit more of it would have been nice. The green chile slaw doesn’t have much personality or piquancy, but it doesn’t take anything away from the Ribeye Sammy.
8 February 2015: Uber chef Marcus Samuelsson believes “Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, far from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.” It’s with this approach that Fork & Fig creates the four salads on its Greens menu. You’ve probably had a salad similar to The Citrus (berries and orange supremes, mixed greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette), but you’ll probably enjoy The Citrus more. The blood orange vinaigrette should be bottled and sold.
24 June 2017: Humorist Fran Lebowitz once remarked “A salad is not a meal. It’s a style.” Most of us will agree with at least the first part of that quote. Salad is definitely not a meal! That said, salad can be a very enjoyable first course, a precursor to something less spartan. Much as we might enjoy Fork & Fig’s The Sesame, we’re happy in the realization that something more substantial will follow–not that this salad is small by any means. The sesame (greens, avocado, candied ginger, heirloom carrots, orange supremes, pickled red onion and sesame vinaigrette) is an excellent salad, one in which the combination of sesame seeds and sesame vinaigrette impart a discernible nutty flavor, something akin to sunflower seeds. The sesame flavor is a perfect complement to the peppery arugula while the orange supremes and especially the candied ginger add a delightful contrast.
24 June 2017: While mathematicians may get their jollies in contemplating the golden ratio (a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part), burgerphiles would rather contemplate ratios which make a perfect burger: the ratio of meat to fat and the ratio of beef to bun to ingredients. Fork & Fig got the first ratio (meat to fat) just right on the eponymous Fig (beef, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, fungi, truffle fig aioli, bacon, greens, crispy onion and tomato on a brioche bun). The beef, prepared a medium degree of doneness, is moist, juicy and very flavorful, about as flavorful as some very good steaks. Alas, the ratio of bun to beef to ingredients was a bit askew. Before we had consumed even half the burger, the bun had crumpled under the moistness and volume of the beef and accompanying ingredients. We had to finish the burger with a fork. By definition (at least mine), it’s no longer a burger when a fork has to be used.
24 June 2017: Virtually every sandwich purveyor in the Duke City, it seems, offers its rendition of a Cubano. Virtually all of them are formulaic copies of the other, most often served panini style. Kudos to Fork & Fig for employing a buttery croissant as the canvas for its Cubano (sliced ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, aioli grain mustard, kosher pickle). Two things stand out about this Cubano: the aioli grain mustard and kosher pickle. Two things are in short supply: pulled pork and sliced ham. Had more substantial portions of these proteins been piled on, this sandwich would be in contention for “best in the city.”
24 June 2017: Fork & Fig offers a dessert du jour. Good fortune smiled upon us when opera cakes were the delight of the day. Essentially petit fours, a French term which literally translates as “small oven,” the opera cakes are bite-sized pastries. Nine different cakes are available, but only five to an order are ferried over to your table and you don’t get to choose which five of the nine you’ll get. Live dangerously. If the five–apple crumble cake, pistachio, tiramisu, raspberry and lemon tart–which graced our table are any indication, you can’t go wrong with any of the five. They’re small slices of decadent deliciousness.
Albuquerque’s Uptown area is far from the uppity and exclusive neighborhood so often stereotyped in song and literature. In restaurants such as Fork & Fig, all are welcome no matter your neighborhood.
Fork & Fig
6904 Menaul, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 24 June 2017
1st VISIT: 8 February 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Grown-up Grilled Cheese, Cotija Corn, Ribeye Sandwich, Green Chile Coleslaw, The Fig, Cubano, Watermelon Gazpacho, Opera Cakes