The first lesson most Phoenicians learn about local geography is that numbered streets are on the east side of the city and that avenues are on the west side. The second lesson might be that if a street has a presidential name, it runs east-west through Downtown. The Vig Fillmore, a new location for a small, locally-based group of restaurants, combine both lessons into one. Its site, the historic Cavness House, has an address on Fourth Avenue but the restaurant takes its name from the intersecting street named for antebellum one-termer Millard Fillmore.
The corner of Fourth Avenue and Fillmore is equidistant from the Roosevelt and Van Buren light rail stations — about half a mile from either one. Nevertheless, Roosevelt is clearly the better choice because the pleasant walking and bicycling route from that station easily beats the long blocks of vacant lots found on the way from Van Buren. Newly-installed bike racks on the west side of Fourth Avenue mark the restaurant’s main entrance; a second entrance facing the restaurant’s namesake street leads to the back of the expansive patio.
That patio was both a blessing and a curse to establishments inhabiting the Cavness House before the Vig. It’s an attractive gathering spot, but it’s so large that the house’s tiny kitchen was often overwhelmed, resulting in long waits for food. The Vig, however, was able to build upon the successes of its first two branches to fund an extensive renovation of the building. The structure’s historic character is intact but with a much larger kitchen and two bars, resulting in food and drink output that can keep pace with peak crowds both indoors and outdoors.
Although the Vig is family friendly and offers a kids menu, each location is as much a bar as a restaurant and therefore keeps its menu relatively accessible. A great deal of the menu is designed for sharing, and many items put slight twists on the familiar, often with a Southwestern influence, especially among items like the posole, which is unique to the Vig Fillmore. Straightforward appetizers include edamame, either with sea salt or a garlic-soy mix; “Double Down,” a combination of two hummus flavors with pita, and guacamole and chips.
|Fillmore Chop Salad with salmon|
If these starters sound familiar, it’s because they’re offered at the two Vigs that came before Fillmore. They’ve long been favorites at the Arcadia and Uptown locations of the restaurant. Likewise, many of the sandwiches and entrees are known quantities from the other branches. The Hot Chick is a pressed chicken breast in a sandwich with a bit of spice that sneaks up from behind after a few bits. The immodestly named “Best Turkey Sandwich” contains sliced white meat with chunky cranberry sauce inside a marble-patterned pretzel bun.
|mac-and-cheese with chicken and broccoli|
All sandwiches come with a side, beginning with obvious favorites like the thin-cut French fries or their sweet potato counterparts and extending into onion rings, cole slaw, and black beans, which are served at a soup-like consistency with a bit of salsa already blended in. Beyond American traditional sandwiches like burgers and a club, the Vig shows a Southwestern influence with its fish tacos, available in both traditional and “deconstructed” versions. The former comes with four corn tortilla tacos built around grilled whitefish with a dusting of spice.
The Southwestern and Mexican influences are even stronger in items that are specific to the Fillmore location. The Vig relies partially on a standardized menu but give the kitchen at least location some opportunity to distinguish itself from its siblings. Downtown, the result is a big bowl of posole, one of the best everyday choices on the menu and full of hominy, tender porks, sprigs of cilantro, lime wedges, and an entire avocado sliced and placed on top of it all. The broth has a bit of surreptitious spice that becomes more perceptible after a few spoonfuls.
Less Southwestern but still unique to this Vig is the Fillmore Chop Salad. No, it’s not yet another copy of the Stetson Chopped Salad. Instead, it a tossed salad full of kale, lettuces, roasted broccoli, and generous shavings of parmesan. A generous slab of salmon for a few dollars more works well on top of this greenery. Other salads come their proteins already included. In the Lean and Green steak salad, beef tops a bed of arugula with bleu cheese. The Southwestern salad is saved from ordinariness by the unexpected addition of roasted peanuts.
The daily flatbread is only five dollars at happy hour and a meal in itself. A recent Southwestern version blended white cheddar, goat cheese, avocado, cilantro, tomato, and jalapeno. The creamy mac-and-cheese, built around horn-shaped noodles can be customized with add-ons. Daily specials have included a straightforward, satisfying tomato bisque and Mexican-inspired barbacoa tacos. On the weekend brunch menu, the smoked salmon departs from the typical with a thick cut of fish rather than deli-thin slices, a pita in lieu of a bagel, and copious arugula.
|banana bread pudding|
Since the Vig has two bars, expect cocktails and tap handles. Torpedo Extra IPA from Sierra Nevada and Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale have been some of the recent draft choices. Desserts such as banana bread pudding are enjoyable but, be warned, large enough to feed a table of four. After the sweets, it might be time for a restroom break, if only to see the portrait of the nation’s 13th president between the bathrooms. Millard Fillmore may not have been the nation’s best most memorable leader, but the Vig Fillmore gives new life to the Downtown street bearing his name.
606 N. 4th Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003
Roosevelt / Central Station