“We will be opening our doors as soon as humanly possible,” Cory Hughes says, gazing around his long-awaited North Side restaurant Fig & Ash.
Plans for the farm-to-flame eatery began in January 2017 and ground was broken that March at 514 East Ohio St. After delays due to city permits and construction setbacks, customers will be able to see the finished project and enjoy a good meal within the next month or so.
The menu and décor are all about comfort.
The rustic, 1,800-square-foot space was designed by Michael McAllister. It’s filled with butcher block tables, wooden beams from the original structure built in 1898, plants and local artwork. There are sketches drawn by Hughes’ great-grandmother, Hulda Parton, and wallpaper handcrafted by Clinton Van Gemert from Printsburgh.
Fig & Ash seats 54, including eight at the bar and six at the chef’s counter. There, patrons can watch the kitchen staff in action around the wood-fired oven custom-made by Temper and Grit. The hearth is the heart of the operation, Hughes says.
There’s a semi-private area in the corner of the room called Table 66 in honor of Penguins star Mario Lemieux. Eventually, a 22-seat patio will open in the adjoining courtyard. The downstairs space will boast a VIP event room with a separate entrance.
The basement is where Hughes and his team, including chefs Chris Shuplock and Matt Urban, will be milling grains, baking bread, extruding pasta, making ice cream and butchering meats.
The quarterly menu, showcasing ingredients from local farmers and purveyors, melds classic Italian and French cooking styles with a contemporary American twist. It’s the kind of food Hughes likes to whip up at home for his family on a Sunday afternoon.
He wants customers to feel like a part of his clan when they dine at Fig & Ash for dinner Monday through Saturday. Guests can start off with a red curried kabocha squash soup or wood-fired kale Caesar salad and then dive into bucatini with Calabrian sausage, San Marzano tomato, smoked trotters and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The wood-fired oven will churn out pork chops, hanger steak and Free Bird Farm chicken roulade accompanied by root veggies, parsnip puree, stewed rainbow chard and natural jus with pickled mustard and coriander seed.
Bar Manager Nikko Whiten will sling a half-dozen seasonal cocktails, eight draft beers and a highly curated selection of wines that will complement the cuisine.
“We’re a very food-centric operation,” says Alex Feltovich, proprietor and general manager. “Everything is based off the wood-fired grill.”
Throughout his career, Hughes has fed everyone from computer gurus at Google’s Bakery Square and coaches at Steelers training camp to Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid crew and foodies at local spots such as Spoon, Eleven and Six Penn Kitchen.
The Philadelphia native began washing dishes in a restaurant in 1994. A year later he was promoted to prep cook. He worked in mess halls while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and eventually went to school at Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts.
Fig & Ash is his passion project and it shows.