The Fig Tree is Charlotte’s Favorite Fine Dining Destination, and With Good Reason
A fig tree serves as both inspiration and metaphor for Elizabeth’s aptly named eatery. Its namesake, four brown turkey fig trees, still stand sentinel over the grounds of the 1913 bungalow-turned-restaurant. Figuratively speaking, the fig tree is a symbol for the both the owners—Chef Greg and wife and general manager Sara Zanitsch, whose roots have grown deep into the Carolina soil since their arrival 13 years ago—and the fare they serve, which is as simply elegant and deliciously unpresumptuous as a fresh-plucked fig.
How the husband and wife team came to Charlotte, and consequently opened what our readers voted the best restaurant in town, is a story both simple and ranging. It begins, as most of our Culinary Creations do, in a kitchen.
“I was introduced to cooking after getting a part-time job washing dishes while I was in undergraduate school at the University of Cincinnati,” remembers Chef Greg. “I loved working in the restaurant and started changing my school schedule around so that I could start cooking and doing prep in the mornings.” What was initially a part-time job for the student became a full-time passion when he enrolled at the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont, following the completion of his undergrad degree.
From Vermont, he traveled to Maui to work in the kitchens at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, then Napa Valley, where he worked at Auberge Du Soliel, then home to Cincinnati. He carved out a pedigree at some of the country’s top-rated restaurants.
It was upon his return to Cincinnati that Chef Greg met his wife, Sara—though their paths had nearly crossed before. “We realized that she started in the kitchen of the same restaurant [I worked at in college] in the evenings, right after I switched to working in the mornings,” he says. Finally, the stars and dishes aligned when they worked together at an Italian restaurant in Cincinnati.
United in both matrimony and careers, the two stoked their shared dream of opening a new eatery. But their hometown of Cincinnati, which had provided them both with careers and romance, fell short when they began the hunt for a restaurant location.
When Chef Greg’s parents, living in Charlotte, found the Lucas House, everything fell into place. One move and a year of renovations later, The Fig Tree opened its doors on March 5, 2005, earning a historic preservation award in the process. “Its historic neighborhood location, proximity to Uptown, large porch and three fire places make it a romantic date spot and place to celebrate special occasions,” Chef Greg adds.
Location and ambiance are all well and good, but a restaurant is nothing if not for its food. There, Chef Greg delivers. The seasonal menu, threaded with French and Italian influence, proffers up dishes that are accessibly lavish, like veal carpaccio and lobster thermidor. “The kitchen makes everything in-house, from bread to desserts, and changes the menu seasonally while keeping some staples that we have become known for,” Chef says. As wonderful as the food menu may be, it’s the wine list that truly sets them apart. “Our wine list has over 1000 different bottles, which we hand select.” With such a fine selection, it’s no wonder The Fig Tree is the toast of the town.