This week I have a guest review from one of my best friends (and fellow foodie). If you want my opinion here’s the short version. The food was ok, but I wouldn’t go back unless someone else picked the restaurant. Now, on to the review.
When my friend asked me to write a “guest review” on his blog, I was reluctant…primarily because I was worried I would sound too harsh in my opinions of Newk’s Express Cafe, the fairly new concept restaurant that opened down Thomasville road, near market square. First of all, I don’t understand the name. “Newk’s” does not illicit any sort of nostalgia, nor is there some sort of witty mascot or character that could clarify the name or lend some credence to a theme of the café.
Upon walking in the front door, guests are greeted by a wall size menu consisting of various salads, sandwiches, and personal pizzas. Upon deciding, the guest walks up to the counter, places his order, and receives a numbered card to be placed at the table. Upon this exchange it is time to enter the dining area, before first stopping at a rather impressive round, glass, multi-tiered service table. At this table sits a variety of salad condiments, including croutons, parmesan, roasted garlic cloves, and oil and vinegar, as well as newk’s “breadsticks” (pre-packaged cracker sticks that the menu excitedly assures guests are located at the condiment table). The small plastic condiment cups provided, in my opinion, are not adequate enough to take more than 4 croutons, but maybe I’m just being picky. After this mildly excessive condiment stop, it’s time to seat myself. The dining area is very large and open, making it easy for families or groups to come in to eat, but, as I was alone, I didn’t need anything fancy. I opted for a booth against a far inner wall. The atmosphere of Newk’s is a bit confusing…while very open, with quite modern light fixtures hanging over the tables in the center of the dining room, the area of booths I was in was darker, with lower lighting and a red brick façade. The decorations are a hodgepodge of said modern fixtures, with a few generic abstract art pieces on the brick walls. For keeping consistent with my friend’s blog, I will provide a numerical rating which, for me will be a 2.5 out of 5.
The dining room is clean, but newk’s just lacks any real identity. While sitting in my booth, typing sarcastic text messages to my food blog friend and waiting for my meal, I was approached by server with a tray of food. Looking at me, she named the food and asked if it was mine. I was more than perplexed by this, as the meal was not, and I figured she would have known this by seeing that the number for that meal did not, in fact match that of my number (which was displayed for all to see from a foot high metal stand at my booth). When she came back a few minutes later, the server had my meal in hand, although she still looked confused. For this little encounter, in addition to the fact that none of the staff seemed overtly cheery, I shall again revert to a 3 out of 5 rating.
To Newk’s credit, the food is actually pretty good. Because I thought my first impression was too harsh the first time I went, I visited the café the very next evening. The first night, I got a black and blue salad (sliced steak, blue cheese, grape tomatoes), along with “The Debra,” a 10 inch pizza featuring chicken and pesto. The second night, I felt the need to get the same salad, but this time also got a cup of crab and lobster bisque, and a steak sandwich that featured caramelized onions, melted cheese, and a horseradish spread. The salads are a very good size, with the ingredients fresh and crisp. A thoughtful touch, when you order a salad you are given the option of dressing on the side or tossed in (though I prefer my salad to already be dressed). The bisque was very good as well, and served piping hot. It would have been great if the soup was served with a piece of bread, but alas all guests get are those stupid cracker sticks at the condiment bar. The crowning achievement, however, was probably the sandwich; the caramelized onions were an unexpected treat. After sitting in my booth, reading for a bit, I decided to venture back to the front counter, where on display daily are 4 cakes, apparently made fresh daily at Newk’s bakery in Oxford, Mississippi. I asked for the cashier’s recommendation, and without hesitating, she pointed to a 3 layer caramel cake. Again, I was given that almost obsolete numbered card, and I resumed my place at my booth with my book. A few minutes later, I was presented with a wedge of cake that was just as moist and delicious as it looked in the cake stand. If anything, the caramel frosting was a bit too sweet, but I kind of saw that coming. Overall, I think it would be appropriate to raise the rating to a 3 out of 5.
Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see the appeal that Newk’s provides. The food is fresh, reasonably priced, and prepared and served quickly. However, I can’t get over the atmosphere of the place itself. Aside from the overall décor, which lacks any identity, I think equal confusing is who the target market is. While I am a single, male, college graduate, I was surrounded women having their weekly after-work girls’ night in one booth, while a couple on the other side of me was sitting with their grandkids. Newk’s seems to provide a place to eat, but certainly not a special dining experience. It’s not somewhere I’d be proud or excited to run into people I know. The place is undeniably suburban, filled, upon subsequent visits of mine for more “research,” with families fresh from soccer practice. It’s a great place to bring the kids when you don’t want to take them anywhere nice, but a “Happy Meal” isn’t thrilling enough either.