Southern Hospitality

Just five years ago it would have been hard to imagine an establishment like The Salty Fig (A Southern Gastropub) setting up shop on the corner of King and College streets in Riverside. This part of the neighborhood was a little rough around the edges. It’s still not without its blemishes, but it has come a long way, baby. Today, within a stone’s throw of one another are a half-dozen trendy bars and restaurants, creating the kind of nightlife destination that all great cities must possess.
The dining room is spacious and actually appears much larger than it really is, thanks to huge windows in the front and soaring ceilings. The space can get a bit loud on a busy night, but that’s what one expects in the big city, right? The long hallway-like space towards the rear offers
the most dining privacy; the rest of the eatery is wide open (good for people-watching). The interior is a contemporary rustic mix with a shiny dark granite bar and splashes of blacks, browns and warm brick reds. Dramatic curtains as big as sails create a sophisticated vibe that, again, would have seemed out of place a few years ago. Now, it works.
The restaurant traces its roots back to Jacksonville’s early food truck scene. Those humble origins are hard to spot today, but hints can be found in the eclectic menu. For example, the bacon and oyster sandwich ($14) is laden with Apalachicola oysters, pork belly, tomatoes, arugula and housemade pickles on thick toast, and the fish tacos ($13) are stuffed with citrus slaw, mango salsa and lime sour cream.
Things turn decidedly un-food truck with entrées such as seared sea scallops with roasted red pepper risotto and shaved parmesan ($27) and bourbon fig glazed quail paired with sweet potato hash and Andouille cornbread stuffing ($24). The overall flavor theme is Southern (shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, gumbo), though not so much that it doesn’t leave room for the chefs’ culinary creativity. Your sweet Southern Grandma Lois may have made a mean ham, but chances are she didn’t prepare cochon de lait: braised pork with jalapeno cornbread, poached hens egg, mushroom fricasse and scallion hollandaise sauce ($20). If she did, you were the luckiest grandkid ever.
The Salty Fig
901 King St., Riverside, 
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 AM-10 PM; Friday-Saturday, 11 AM-11 PM; Sunday, 11 AM-10 PM.
Southern Spirits: Moonshine ain’t just for Hatfields and McCoys any longer. The bar stocks a lengthy tally of bonafide moonshine labels (16 in all) like Midnight Moon, Flagler Lightning, Death’s Door and Old Smoky Tennessee.
Brew Crew: The list of bottled and canned beers is even longer, including a few hard-to-find brews such as Dogfish 60 Minute IPA, Cigar City Brown Ale and Abita Amber. A can of PBR is only $2.
Hey, Bartender: On the specialty cocktail list, try the King Street Greyhound, an unusual concoction of Stoli vodka, grapefruit, simple syrup and basil.
Be My Neighbor: A handful of nearby watering holes makes the area an ideal place to bar-hop—if you like that sort of thing. And have a designated driver.
Sweet Relief: The coffee and doughnuts ($6) is a collection of New Orleans-inspired beignets with berries and espresso ice cream.
story by John O'Mara // photos by Agnes Lopez