It’s been 1,333 days since chef Cory Hughes broke ground on Fig & Ash, a farm-to-flame restaurant at 514 E. Ohio Street in the North Side.
On September 22 it opened for takeout lunch service. On-site dinners start Oct. 7. You can make reservations online.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., customers can grab a gourmet sandwich served with housemade sea salt and vinegar chips. Selections include the F&A Cuban with tasso ham, smoked pulled pork, apple cabbage slaw, bread and butter pickles and Swiss cheese. The Deutschtown Cheesesteak, named after the North Side neighborhood, is made with wood-fired steak, roasted onions and peppers, pepperoncini relish and smoked Cheez Whiz.
It’s not the grand opening Hughes envisioned when he started this journey, but he’s happy to be feeding Pittsburgh again. After a string of setbacks related to construction and city permits, Fig & Ash was ready to roll in March.
Then Covid hit.
“Sometimes a curse can be a blessing,” Hughes says with a laugh. “If I had opened in the beginning of March, I would’ve lost $6,000 in perishables. We could not have financially recovered from that.”
Hughes and his team have spent the last six months coming up with a new game plan, rearranging the dining room and beautifying the patio.
The 1,800-square-foot dining room seats 31 patrons, including four people at the chef’s counter. A glass partition blocks the heat and the noise of the kitchen, but allows diners to watch the chef in action around the wood-fired oven custom-made by Temper and Grit. The outdoor space seats 18 and there three two-top tables on the sidewalk.
The opening menu has gone through more than a dozen incarnations.
“I’m hyper-focused on seasonality,” says Hughes, who just pickled a truckload of Chambersburg peaches. “Once we get up and running, our menus will always be changing.”
Fig & Ash specializes in food that melds classic Italian and French cooking styles with a contemporary American twist. Hughes and his crew will partner with local farmers to get fresh ingredients for their wood-fired cuisine.
Entrées include blackened line-caught swordfish, Duroc tomahawk pork chop, prime flat iron steak, short rib and pork belly meatloaf and blackberry-smoked Free Bird Farm chicken.
In addition to pickling, the Fig & Ash staff will mill grains, bake bread, extrude pasta, make ice cream and butcher meats on-site.
A Philadelphia native, Hughes got his start in the restaurant industry in 1994. Within a year he went from dishwasher to prep cook. He worked in mess halls while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts. Throughout his career, he’s fed everyone from tech gurus at Google’s Bakery Square headquarters and coaches at the Steelers training camp, to Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid crew and foodies at local spots such as Spoon, Eleven and Six Penn Kitchen.
After working on Fig & Ash for nearly four years, Hughes says seeing people eat his food will be worth the wait.