Cafe Reviews

The Vig Makes Good on Atmosphere and Eats

Whenever I mention The Vig to people, I expect a certain reaction — the gushing enthusiasm of a devotee, or the eyeball-rolling groan of a critic. Rarely do I encounter indifference.

There's just something about this edge-of-Arcadia tavern, a magnetism that attracts all the quirky social flora and fauna from the neighborhood and beyond. Black-clad servers swerve around huddles of Casual Friday Gen X-ers swilling pints by the light of the bar, where pretty 20-somethings in skinny jeans flirt with young men in polo shirts. People sitting in the booths — dressed-up college kids, good-looking housewives, youthful Boomers — get a front-row seat to the melodrama.

Out on the patio, the scene is even more energetic, perhaps with a live band or DJ heating up the sound system. Young professionals sink into Adirondack chairs, deep into wine and conversation. Cougars lounge by the outdoor fireplace, their polished bronze cleavage drawing sideways glances from snowbird dudes in Hawaiian shirts (meanwhile, their sequined wives have stumbled off to the ladies room). And in one corner, there's perpetual motion at the bocce ball court, a strip of startling green astroturf.

This could be a typical Saturday night, a boozy Sunday afternoon, or at the peak of a weekday happy hour, just as sunset-pink beams filter through a block-wall grid. It really doesn't matter when you show up, because it's usually just the difference between busy and mobbed.

Ever since it opened three years ago, The Vig has become a place that people either love or love to hate, and its sheer popularity has only grown stronger. It's mostly the scene that has so many fans and haters, although this is also a great place for a casual, reasonably priced bite.

The demand for a chic local watering hole is so intense that a second Vig will be opening March 22, in a revamped 1960s Ralph Haver building that used to be an Arizona Bank at 16th Street and Bethany Home.

Clearly, they're onto something here.

I wasn't enthusiastic about The Vig's food early on. In fact, the only things I kind of liked were the straightforward bar-food items, like the excellent burger and the grilled chicken sandwich. Some of the entrees completely turned me off. I saw myself coming back only for a drink at the sleek bar.

That was then, and this is now. Thanks to chef Lenard Rubin, the menu has evolved considerably, and these days, it's actually the more creative items that have my attention. I still love the burger, too.

The eclectic mix of standards and novelties starts with such appetizers as five-spice edamame or flatbread pizza, a crisp, puffy piece of naan topped with grilled tandoori chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, paneer cheese, and scrumptious pear-cardamom chutney that give it a savory-sweet dynamic.

Grilled chicken wings, called "Vings," were a decent alternative to ordinary hot wings, although they didn't offer anything nuclear-hot. Still, I liked the traditional Vings dunked in blue cheese dip and felt considerably less guilty eating a pile of those than greasy fried wings. Bring me another beer.

Meanwhile, I felt utterly shameful eating almost half of the "Not So Nachos," a towering heap of hot, homemade tortilla chips layered with gooey white cheddar, gobs of slow-roasted pork, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, black olives, pickled jalapeños, and green olives. I never thought of myself as a big nacho freak, but with all this juicy pork, I'm a convert.

Rosemary-tinged meatloaf with bacon-mushroom gravy wasn't bad, but the mashed potatoes needed help. And butter. And salt. I'd much rather get my hot beef fix from the big-ass VigAzz burger. Cooked just right and served on a soft toasted bun, it was mouthwatering with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions, peppered bacon, tomato, and arugula. A fried egg is optional, and I say, "Go for it." Also, on Tuesdays, they've brought back the tasty Reuben sandwich by popular demand, and it's packed with corned beef and coleslaw.

Southern fried chicken salad was a straightforward mix of greens, tomatoes, pecans, blue cheese crumbles, and buttermilk-chipotle ranch dressing, jazzed up with crispy chunks of boneless fried chicken — as hearty as a salad can get. As a bonus, it was served with warm, fragrant green chile cornbread that's so tasty they should offer it à la carte. I'd eat that cornbread with everything.

For a simple grilled chicken sandwich, the "Hot Chick" was nicely done — moist, smothered with spicy avocado spread, and tucked into a ciabatta bun with roasted tomato, smoked mozzarella, and arugula. Achiote-rubbed grilled salmon was also a treat, its silky, smoky flesh teamed with a chorizo-filled arepa (sweet corn cake) and mango salsa atop a pool of poblano chile cream sauce. Fresh asparagus stalks rounded out the plate.

That was definitely not run-of-the-mill bar food, and neither was the unusual potato pancake topped with carne asada, guac, sour cream, cotija cheese, and roasted tomato-garlic sauce. I ate every bite and practically licked the platter of all that sauce. Good stuff.

I was dangerously stuffed after indulging in so much comforting fare, but I pushed on, rallying my satiated companions to get their second wind. The reward for our endurance came in the form of bread pudding — a thick, warm, dense slab of buttery naughtiness slathered in sweet rum sauce. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was over the top.

Of course, not as over the top as the delicious scene here.

Dig in, folks.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig