Clairvoyant Chef

J.P. knows our lunch order soon as Fig's phone rings.

By Jan Walsh

Kev and I have made a good habit of ordering lunch from Fig. It is close enough to Liberty Park that it always travels well. And lately, we seem to be stuck on the same order. And for good reason…

When I call to order, the phone is answered with a friendly question, “Hi, Jan. What would you like today?” And it is typically, Chef J.P. on the other end of the line. When Kev calls, the response is the same, with exception of “Hi, Mister Jan.” Kev laughs as he has become used to this nickname in Birmingham’s restaurant scene. Lately, when answering the phone, J.P. happily recites our order to us, rather than vice versa, because he knows this is what we order every time.

As a Pennsylvania native, Kev is a huge fan of Philly Cheesesteaks. But can also be a big critic. Thus, at times I cringe if he orders one because I do not want him to disappointed if it does not live up to his food memory of what it should be. I never worry at Fig. I have listened and learned here as J.P. and Kev have had conversations of what a Philly should be.

And their conversations about the perfect Philly Steak Sandwich inspired me to research the sandwich’s origins… History has it that Pat Olivieri, a hotdog vendor in South Philadelphia, invented the cheesesteak in the 1930s. As he was grilling beef and then placing it on an Italian roll, the aroma led a local cab driver to ask for the same steak sandwich. And his rave reviews of it soon spread through the cabbie circuit bringing other cab drivers from all over the city. Olivieri later opened Pat's King of Steaks on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. And here cheese was added to it in the 1940s by manager Joe Lorenza.

Although Fig’s Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich is typically served on sourdough toast, as J.P. has made it both ways, on the traditional butter hoagie bun and on sourdough toast. And Kev prefers the sourdough, saying that J.P. has improved this classic by changing the bread. But it is not just the bread that makes the toast so good. The sourdough melds with the tender shaved steak, caramelized onions, and melted white American cheese into a sensational sandwich. And he always has it with their marvelous mashed potatoes.

My order combines the Fig Tree Salad and an appetizer of Crab Cakes, creating my own dish… Crab Cake Salad! Each time I open the Fig Tree Salad box, fresh aromas of mixed greens, cucumber, onion, tomato, and generous shaved parmesan spring forth. If you love crab claws, Fig’s Crab Cakes are a must try. Rather than lump crab, Fig’s cakes are uniquely made of Greg Abrams crab claw meat. The pan seared, brown claw meat’s rich flavor and taste profile evoke my earliest beach memories of deviled crab. And J.P.’s tangy, creamy, and colorful house made remoulade elevates the cakes further. Both Kev’s Philly Cheesesteak and my Crab Cake Salad are highly recommended.

Fig just added heaters to their patio. And J.P. is rolling out some new dinner dishes next week. We will be there… Look for dinner review in next week’s Food Finds!







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