The first lesson Phoenicians should 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 central 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 both 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. Two rows of 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. Straightforward appetizers include edamame, either with sea salt or a garlic-soy mix; “Double Down,” a combination of two hummus flavors; and a bowl of guacamole with chips. The Vig’s bruschetta shows some uniqueness with its blend of corn, avocado, and black beans.
If these starters sound familiar, it’s because they’re offered at the other Vigs around the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Likewise, many of the sandwiches and entrees are known quantities from the other branches. The grilled chicken sandwich, an anodyne rebranding of a creation previously known as the Hot Chick, is a pressed poultry breast in a sandwich with a bit of spice that sneaks up from behind after a few bites. The immodestly named “Best Turkey Sandwich” contains sliced white meat with chunky cranberry sauce inside a marble-patterned pretzel bun.
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, Brussels sprouts, and black beans, which are served at a soup-like consistency with a bit of cotija cheese and pico de gallo. Beyond American traditional sandwiches like burgers and a club, the Vig shows a Southwestern influence with its blackened whitefish tacos and a cross-cultural blending of Mexican and east Asian influences via its short rib tacos garnished with kimchee and sambal aioli.
A big bowl of posole is full of hominy, tender pork, sprigs of cilantro, lime wedges, and a wedge of 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. The pad thai, the Vig’s interpretation of an Asian noodle favorite, is also somewhat surprising in terms of the heat it packs in its tamarind sauce. An all-American touch is found in the creamy mac-and-cheese, built around horn-shaped noodles and customizable with chorizo, bacon, chicken, and broccoli available as additions.
Entree-sized salads include citrus seared shrimp over a bed of hearty fingerling potatoes and red kale and steak on top of spring mix lettuces and arugula. A Greek salad is a familiar mix of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, feta, chickpeas, and red onion topped with lemon-oregano dressing and given extra heft with the addition of grilled chicken. The most substantial and priciest entrees are big plates such as the rib-eye steak with pan seared potatoes, bacon, and radicchio and the maple-glazed salmon with broccolini and soba noodles.
Weekend brunch is popular here since the expansive, well-shaded patio provides a pleasant setting for outdoor dining. There’s even a bocce court off to the side for recreational use before, during, and after the meal. The brunch menu has classic favorites such as eggs Benedict and Southwestern items like huevos rancheros and chicken enchiladas with a tangy tomatillo sauce. Alongside these breakfast-oriented foods, there’s a limited selection from the lunch and dinner menus — not everything, but enough options for those who want something more savory.
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 notable draft choices. Desserts, most of them served in mason jars, are enjoyable and large enough for sharing. 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 be 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