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‘Fine dining to go’

Fork & Fig’s lamb burger is made from a blend of ground lamb and beef. A side of sautéed Brussel sprouts can be added for $4. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The humble sandwich, mainstay of fast-food and diner menus everywhere, gets a major upgrade at Fork & Fig restaurant, on Menaul near Uptown.

Bacon and braised short rib turn up in your grilled cheese, broccolini in your ham sandwich. Forget mustard and ketchup: Here you get such condiments as pesto aioli and raspberry relish.

In opening Fork & Fig, chef and owner Josh Kennon gambled that locals would pay double-digit dollars for sandwiches with some craft, originality and top-shelf ingredients. Five years later, the gamble appears to have paid off. Fork & Fig is thriving. Kennon recently opened a spinoff, a build-your-own enchilada place called the Jealous Fork, next door.

Kennon’s description of Fork & Fig as “fine dining to go” is apt. It’s built for grab-and-go rather than a leisurely meal. The small space has room for about 24 people among the assortment of thick wooden tables and pitiless metal chairs. With its open kitchen and hard surfaces, the dining room presents an assault of smells and sounds. The most irksome features, at least at night, are the glaring overhead lights, which evoke the ambiance of an interrogation room.

The cramped quarters filled quickly on a recent Saturday night, with two big parties rolling in fresh from a Lobo men’s basketball game. Affable servers logged a lot of steps as they kept things moving in the dining room while periodically ducking outside to take food to patrons in Broken Trail’s Uptown Tasting Room across the courtyard.

Besides sandwiches and hamburgers, Fork & Fig offers a few salads for $11 each, four wraps in the $11-$13 price range and four entrées costing $15 to $21.

The lamb burger ($16), the priciest of the five burgers on the menu, is made from a blend of ground lamb and ground beef. It’s presented with lettuce, tomato and pickles in a towering construction held together with a skewer. In an artful touch, the letters “F&F” are branded into the top of the pretzel bun. The thin, broad patty was cooked past the requested medium rare but was still very juicy. When the juices from it join forces with the aioli, you quickly realize the one napkin they provide is not enough to get the job done. Kennon makes a spin on the classic lamb and mint jelly pairing with a bracing mint chimichurri. It’s top-notch burger, but not the indelible experience portended to by the $16 tab.

Short rib grilled cheese with a side of roasted root hash. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Fork and Fig’s short-rib grilled cheese ($15), a generous slab of short ribs sunk into a matrix of Swiss, cheddar and port wine cheeses, comes closer to living up to its price. Having tried the brisket and braised pork at Jealous Fork, I can safely say the folks here do slow cooking well. The addition of bacon, sliced tomato and an intensely beef-flavored demi-glace makes it feels like an entire meal between two slices of bread.

In keeping with its “no freezer, no fryer” motto, Fork & Fig does not serve french fries. Instead, it offers five vegetable sides, including smashed fingerling potatoes and grilled squash. Sautéed Brussels sprouts ($4) in a balsamic glaze is a popular choice. Despite their appetizingly charred appearance, the sprouts were a little tough. A more successful option was the roasted root hash ($4) with vegetables including beets and turnips served in a small dice. Walnuts added crunch to the dish, and tart, diced Granny Smith apples mitigated the sweetness of the glaze.

Dessert specials are available, although the kitchen had run out of the daily special the night we were there. It must not have been very memorable, because the otherwise well-informed server couldn’t remember what it was.

Although it may not be the most quiet, serene spot for a dinner out, Josh Kennon’s Fork & Fig deserves credit for elevating the sandwich to the level of a fine-dining experience.

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