PLANT-BASED eateries are on the rise around the country and for good reason; vegetables are the stars of the plate, delivering a wow-factor in the absence of animal products.
The terms “vegetable-focused” and “plant-based” have essentially replaced “vegan” and “vegetarian” in restaurants, as most chefs nationwide see liberty in inventing dishes that hone in on farm-fresh produce.
Savannah continues to contribute to this ever-expanding veggie movement with its latest plant-based cafe, Fox & Fig.
Clay Ehmke, co-owner and general manager, along with Jennifer Jenkins, owner of the Foxy Family Dynasty, welcomed the Fox & Fig to the neighborhood just before Thanksgiving.
The charming effervescent café sits on the corner of Habersham and East Harris Street, overlooking lush Troup Square. Savannahians will recognize the space as the former Firefly restaurant.
As a person who has been eating vegan food for six years, Ehmke dreamed of opening a plant-based café. He managed different cafes for a couple years before moving to Savannah.
Once in Savannah, Ehmke assisted in opening The Collins Quarter, where he was tasked to visit and study the best cafés in New York City, gathering instrumental intel on the makings of a great shop.
Later he managed The Coffee Fox for 2 ½ years, and helped open Henny Penny Art Space & Café as the front of house manager. Now, his dream has come true, with the help of Jenkins.
“It’s a collaboration. [Jenkins] brings the brand, the heart and soul of it, the aesthetics. I bring the operations and concept, management, leadership and team. It’s a partnership,” Ehmke explains.
Ehmke goes on to clarify that he is not using the word vegan because he does not want to push an agenda.
“At the end of the day, I do have activism with it. I want people to know that they can eat plant-based food with no loss to their palate. We don’t have an agenda to push, just good food, featuring good dishes.”
As with any dream, Ehmke was anxious to see the community’s response to this “all vegan, full-service restaurant, as it’s different from what Savannah is used to.”
While waiting for a certificate of occupancy, Fox & Fig had a pop-up party at Foxy Loxy. “There was a line around the corner. We served almost 300 people in two hours,” recalls Ehmke. Four days later, they announced the opening of Fox & Fig, and the house was packed.
In less than a month, Fox & Fig’s popularity has flourished with Ehmke covering the front of the house and Executive Chef Anthony Bayness as well as Chef de Cuisine Shawn Harrison in the back of the house. Bayness was the former head chef at The Collins Quarter and colleague of Ehmke.
Ehmke boasts, “[Bayness] has quite a resume and brings so much to the kitchen. If I had a wish list of who to work in my kitchen, it would be him.”
Chef Harrison, a devote vegan, owns and operates an all-vegan pop-up dining series “Tephra,” that was originally based in Charlotte. He and Ehmke met a few years ago in a collaborative effort to bring plant-based food to Savannah. Harrison has played a huge role in menu development leading up to the café’s opening.
“They are both running the show,” Ehmke proudly declares.
This precious café seats about 40 people, with outdoor seating that overlooks the picturesque neighborhood and square. Grand windows line the corner lot, streaming in brilliant light. Brick stairs lead down into the space, where tables sit snug side by side and in alcoves by the scenic windows.
The chatter of caffeinated patrons, bustle of cheerful servers, clinking of coffee mugs, whirl of the espresso machine and chiming of forks on plates all contribute to the high-spirited vibe of the eatery.
The completely renovated space evokes a springtime sentiment with a lavender, white and grey color palette. Vibrant florals on each table and art featuring birds and blooms symbolize the fresh innovation that Fox & Fig embodies.
Currently this plant-based café is open every day from 8am to 3pm, serving a “brunch-heavy, brunch-forward, brunch-centric” menu. The menu has 10 plates, ranging in size and flavor profiles.
Fox & Fig is a restaurant and coffee shop for everyone, not just vegans and vegetarians. Because of this the menu is descriptive, listing all ingredients in each dish. This purposeful detail is meant to be a gateway for discussion, a way to shed light on unfamiliar ingredients.
Start your morning off with PERC coffee from the espresso bar or specialty tea menu. Order a steamy cup of Earl Grey + Lavender tea or a chocolaty sip of Mochaccino, both made creamy with Oatly Milk. This plant-based liquid made from oats and water is enriched with calcium and vitamins.
When it comes to food, all herbivores and omnivores have something in common; they want it to taste good. At Fox & Fig, dishes that delight herbivores are blowing the minds of omnivores (I can attest).
For a stunning and dainty breakfast bowl, the Soaked Chia Porridge delivers a wow-factor. Cold coconut cream engorges black chia seeds, lending to the tapioca texture. A rainbow of fruits, micro-greens, candied lime-peel, pepitas and hemp seeds are topped with a swirl of sweet agave nectar. This sweet, refreshing, coco-nutty dish is worthy of licking the bowl.
The Plant Food Plank is an artisanal craft “cheese” platter meant for sharing. The board boasts four creamy faux cheeses from Miyoko’s Creamery. From fresh slabs of mozzarella and double cream chive to garlic herb and aged smoked farmhouse, these cheesy alternatives are predominantly made from cashews.
The cheeses are served alongside pickled red onion, olive-walnut tapenade, house made hibiscus strawberry jam with hibiscus flowers, and Auspicious Baking Company toast. The familiar textures and flavors of the cheeses make the fact that they are dairy-free almost unbelievable.
When eating plant-based food, there is always a question of compromise. No one doubts that a vegetable-forward chef can crank out a scrumptious veggie dish like the Breakfast Hash, with sweet potato, russet potato, cauliflower, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, peppers, onion and a cashew hollandaise sauce.
But, when a plant-based chef serves a burger, eyes start to roll and cynicism takes over.
The Fox Burger, with a soft pretzel bun, grilled pear, arugula, caramelized onion, agave-Dijon mustard and pickled red onion, is hands-down one of the best burgers in town. Besides the crispy kale chips, what makes it uber-special is the Beyond Burger patty, a plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and tastes like a fresh beef burger.
The burger’s color resembles medium rare beef that oozes juices. The sweet and savory accoutrements, along with the smoky meatiness of the plant patty, make the Fox Burger a hot commodity.
Not to sugarcoat it, but Fox & Fig also serves plant-based confections. Indulge in a creamy slice of 100 percent raw Cashew Cheesecake drizzled with House Salted Caramel and sprinkled Basil Blossom. Or pop a Cookie Butter Truffle with PERC espresso in your mouth for a sweet treat.
In mid-December Fox & Fig plans on receiving their wine license, followed by a beer license. With that, dinner will be served. Ehmke projects that the menu will consist of six to seven large plates, each featuring a certain vegetable.
The dish will simply be named after the specific veggie headlining the dish — think “Mushroom” or “Carrot.” The dinner menu has a farm-to-table theme, following the seasonality of local products.
Over the course of a few years, Savannah’s food and beverage businesses have embraced trending concepts, altering the trajectory of the city’s food scene. Fox & Fig has contributed to this movement.