Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia. Today’s student contributor is Meghan Kasel.
Fig—short for “Food is Good—“ opened in September 2013, and the vision was clear from the start. Owners Anja Andelic and her husband Jozo, who share a Balkan background and a passion for food, have been part of several food ventures in Charlottesville during their sixteen years here, all focused on the traditional food of their native region. First was the stand at the City Market, offering Balkan delicacies like pierogies and baklava. Next came the Balkan Bakery and Cafe, and finally the Balkan Bistro, which closed in 2013.
With Fig, the Andelics wanted to continue to honor their Balkan roots, but also do something a little different. They thought that their native cuisine would blend beautifully with one of their favorite styles of food they had encountered in the United States, Cajun.
Why? “Both are really big and loud,” Anja said matter-of-factly. And, they are comforting, too. The result is a unique menu featuring hybrid dishes such as Cajun Shrimp and Mash Pirogue – Cajun-spiced pan-seared shrimp, house-made pirogue stuffed with mashed potatoes, garlic cream and fresh roma tomatoes. Anja sums up the restaurant’s food philosophy simply: “It’s that soul food—it’s that make-me-feel-good food.”
The location feels right, too. In the Spring of 2013, while strolling on The Corner, the Andelics noticed a “For Lease” sign in one of The Corner’s signature locations. Most recently occupied by Cafe Europa, the site once housed the legendary University Diner. Now, it is home to Fig.
In overhauling the space, the Andelics worked to create a dining experience that distinguishes itself from other Corner eateries. String lights drape the ceilings, with café-sized tables and a dark wood bar rounding out the room. “I wanted to take the European food experience and bring it to Charlottesville,” Anja explained. That feel is underscored by an intimate setting—with low lighting and a wait-staff in head-to-toe black.
Perhaps the most captivating part of FIG’s charm is a large mural covering the front wall of the restaurant. “There’s my dad making the sausages!” Anja said as she pointed at the colorful illustration of her family in various food activities—all revolving around the Charlottesville City Market, from which they get many of their ingredients. The mural reflects the Fig experience —warm and comfortable— like family.
What to Order
When asked what the most popular dishes are, Anja cites four. Fig Salmon—fig sauce, farmers market veggies and walnut mushroom risotto; Shrimp and Goat Cheese Linguini—tomato sauce, goat cheese, and Cajun style shrimp; Lamb Burger— lamb patty, feta cheese, basil pesto on a pretzel bun; and the Cajun Shrimp and Mash Pirogue. The dishes are so popular that on any given night, they are prone to sell out. Anja’s own personal favorite is the Shrimp and Goat Cheese Linguini. “I make the Romesco sauce myself,” she said proudly.
As popular as these fusion dishes are, there is one Balkan staple that won raves at all of their prior ventures and still makes a special appearance every now and then at Fig. Cevapcici are handmade Balkan sausages typically served with fresh flatbread and chopped onions. Some have called them one of the best dishes in Charottesville. Psst, we hear they will be on the specials menu next week.