When a business associate invited me to meet him for lunch at Newk's Express Cafe this afternoon I had little to no intention of reviewing the establishment. Frequent readers know that I tend to avoid chain restaurants, and even a home-grown Mississippi based operation like Newk's usually is of little interest to me.
But, since he offered to put it on his expense account, how could I say no?
Newk's is the brainchild of Don Newcomb and his collaborators Debra Bryson and Chris Newcomb. They turned a converted gas station into a small deli in the heart of a college town in to one of the most successful regional chains around - McAllister's. They very well could be headed in that direction with Newk's.
Newk's has a hip, urban feel with a modern design and interior. The concept is visually appealing with a great layout and unique atmosphere.
I ordered the toasted Italian with a side of Tippah County Cavier and a sweet team. My associate ordered the sandwich and soup combo featuring a half toasted club sandwich with Lobster-crab Bisque.
When the server brought out our meal, honestly the portions looked small. A feature that I really like about Newk's is the condiment bar which isn't your standard ketchup, may and mustard. It features anything from premium pickles, capers, pickled garlic cloves, peppers, and a variety of sauces and more traditional condiments.
I helped myself to a small cup of the pickled garlic and capers, thinking they would go well with the "Tippah Co. Cavier".
I started with the Italian sandwich, and I'll say it was good, really good. It features capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, salami, and provolone. And while that would provide more than enough for a solid sandwich experience it was fully dressed with mayo, spicy mustard, tomato, onions, pickled cherry peppers and a signature Italian sauce.
I think you would be hard pressed to find a better sandwich from any chain, on 10 scale this was an 8.5. The bread was good, not great and it was pretty small as far as deli sandwiches go, but it certainly wasn't small on flavor!
The Tippah County Cavier is really just a spicy black-eyed pea salad served cold. It was a pretty good cold side, but when you add a few capers and the pickled garlic it came together nicely.
My associate reported that his club sandwich was good.
The only disappointment in the meal was the Lobster-crab bisque. It just wasn't good, no real way to sugar coat it. He took two bites and set it aside, I didn't believe him and had to at least taste it....I didn't make it to the second bite.
It had an odd orange color and had an over powering fishy taste, apparent that a low quality imitation crab had been used.
In all this was a very positive dining experience, and while I probably won't become a regular at Newk's I certainly have a better understanding of why they've built a loyal following in Hattiesburg.