On the Menu: Fig Tree Cafe is branching out with breakfast eateries
I recall my mother quite emphatically reciting a wise proverb to her kids in the mornings before we headed off to school: “You should eat breakfast like a king or queen, lunch like a prince or princess, and dinner like a pauper.”
Johan Engman, CEO and founder of Rise & Shine Hospitality Group — a San Diego-based restaurant conglomerate that focuses on indulgent breakfast fare, must’ve heard the same expression growing up in Östersund, Sweden before planting his roots in San Diego in 1997 when he was 16.
After spending years of tutelage as a busser, dishwasher and server at various restaurants around town, Engman spotted a vacant restaurant site at 5119 Cass St. on the rim of Pacific Beach and Bird Rock. By the fall of 2008 Engman had scraped together enough funds to launch his restaurant vision. Intuitively, he stacked the odds in his favor by opening a breakfast and lunch eatery in a market that he said he believed was saturated with dinner spots.
Want to visit?
Fig Tree Cafe
Address: 5119 Cass St., Pacific Beach
Hours: daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
With a mother lode of elbow grease and sweat equity, Engman transformed the dilapidated haunt into a sunny breakfast gathering place.
Although willowy ficus trees graced the entrance of his new restaurant, the botanical name did not strike a harmonious chord with the fledgling restaurateur. Since the ficus is a weeping fig, he chose the name Fig Tree Cafe, which became the first in a family of cheery breakfast diners, including locations in East Village, Liberty Station, and soon to open Mission Valley. They are joined by a slew of Breakfast Republic brands, Eggies, Gaslamp Breakfast Company plus Feast and Fareway on the municipal golf course in Coronado. More of the same are to come by next summer.
Strolling through the casual cottage-like entrance of PB’s Fig Tree Cafe, the nostalgic morning aromas of fresh brewed coffee, smoky bacon and wholesome whole wheat toast perfume the al fresco eatery and pull you in. The eye-popping décor includes a kitschy repurposed surf board tricked out with light fixtures and hangs from the high-beamed open ceiling, comfy neon blue booths, a sprawling trompe l’oeil mural of the beach and pier, and four blossoming fig trees in the front seating area. The latter flows to the woodsy back patio.
A laid back California coastal vibe colliding with a south of the border spice is reflected in the creative, healthy breakfast and lunch menu. Gluten-free and vegan options are abundant, along with items to satisfy discriminating carnivorous and pescatarian palates, while seasonal items rotate throughout the year “to keep the menu fresh, as it updates constantly,” Engman said.
The winter specials, available until March 19, include house braised short ribs atop of creamy polenta, served with poached eggs and a minty pistachio pistou. Pair this with some liquid cheer, whether a S’mores Latte, or a Winter Mimosa Flight blending Brut with blood orange, dragon fruit and Granny Smith apples.
Engman said Fig Tree Cafe also uses mostly organic and GMO-free ingredients. Whenever possible it sources from local vendors for the 21 restaurants in the group, including free-range eggs from Eben-Haezer Poultry Ranch, a family–owned egg ranch in Ramona; and “super tasty, gluten-free baked goods like multi-grain, and cinnamon raisin breads that don’t taste like cardboard,” from GIN, an acronym for Gluten Not Included, a family-owned bakery in Escondido.
Popular menu items run the gamut from breakfast sushi (bacon, scrambled eggs and scallion-wrapped rice rolls with plum sauce), to meatloaf hash and a Monterey egg and cheese scramble with Anaheim chilies, corn tortillas, Mexican rice, black beans, and house made salsa. There are also assorted French toasts like the signature fig jam and ricotta-stuffed rendition, and a lobster and blue crab cake Benedict.
Vegans can indulge in the plant-based Mediterranean omelet made from mung beans that incorporates olives, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and capers, with house potatoes and choice of vegan bread.
Hearty soups, substantial salads and sandwiches, like the fully-loaded grilled turkey are satisfying and healthy lunch items.
Nicely wash it all down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, ginger kombucha, specialty lattes or a cup of organic, fair-trade coffee. Liquid boost shots are a treat to amp up immunity, cleanse, detox or combat fatigue. These can also be blended with Champagne for a bubbling mighty mimosa.
If you want to dine with your dog, there’s a Puppy Chow menu to please most canine cravings. Offerings range from grilled chicken breast and rice to eggs and turkey bacon. But please follow the rules for proper pooch table manners.
Although Fig Tree Cafe has received many accolades and honorable mentions in the culinary breakfast world, the consummate host humbly brushed these off as, “you should focus on doing the best job you can do with regards to quality and service, and not take your eye off the prize by ensuring that every guest has a great experience.”
Engman also owes his recipe for success to his core values, “to be scrappy and resourceful, remember where you came from and promote from within.” Rise & Shine’s chief operating officer, Cesar Garcia, started as a line cook, while Sarah King began as a data entry clerk before she worked her way up the rungs to corporate chief financial officer.
Merchandise and memorabilia are also for sale so you can enjoy house made jams, ketchup, cluckin’ good hot sauce and a coffee bean blend at home, while sipping from a Fig Tree emblazoned mug.
Recipe from Fig Tree Cafe
Berry Sweet French Toast
8 slices brioche bread (1-inch thick)
1 quart heavy cream
12 egg yolks
½ C. brown sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
1 T. spiced rum
1 T. unsalted butter
1. Combine cream, yolks, sugar, vanilla and rum in a large mixing bowl. Blend with a whisk.
2. Add butter to a large saucepan and heat on medium until it melts.
3. Dip brioche bread in the mix and place on the saucepan. Cook on both sides until golden brown.
4. Cut in half and place on a serving plate. Spoon a generous dollop of the topping (below) and garnish with fresh berries.
1 pound of frozen mixed berries
1 T. lime juice
1 C. fine sugar
1 C. cream cheese
¼ C. condensed milk
1 C. chopped strawberries
12 large black berries
1. Add frozen mixed berries, lime juice and sugar to a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. When berries get soft blend until smooth.
3. Set aside to cool.
4. In a small mixing bowl blend cream cheese and condensed milk.
5. Top French toast with jam mix, cream cheese blend and fresh berries.