Venue Review: Newk's Express Cafe
The Charlotte Observer
9815 Rea Road, in the Blakeney Crossing shopping center.
In January, reader Charlie Malouf dropped me a line.
"I'm from Mississippi, and I just heard that my favorite fast casual café from Mississippi is coming to Charlotte this year," wrote Malouf.
I hadn't heard of Newk's Express Café - but after Malouf's rather passionate e-mail exhorting me to try a restaurant that, as it turned out, wouldn't open until nearly eight months later, I felt compelled to go.
The pizzas (don't miss the deluxe version) are a definite must-have. Salads, sandwiches (we tried an interesting "BBQ" sandwich), soups and desserts (the caramel cake was spot on) round out the menu. Most items ran $7-$8.50, so making our $25-for-two budget was no problem.
Newk's dining room is loud though not annoyingly boisterous. It felt kind of good just to sit at the restaurant, located on Rea Road, in the Blakeney Crossing shopping center.
According to www.newkscafe.com, the same team of people who founded McAllister's Deli created Newk's. The menus are much different, but there are similarities in customer service. Place your order at a counter, get a number and the food is brought to you. Newk's was packed on the day we went, but we only waited for our food about 15 minutes.
Newk's "Q" sandwich puts an interesting twist on the chicken sandwich. A grilled chicken breast - with a hint of smokiness - was sliced and placed on a crusty roll along with applewood smoked bacon and Swiss cheese.
There was a white barbecue sauce on the sandwich. According to a server we asked, the white sauce "is spiced similarly" to a traditional tomato-based barbecue sauce. Newk's manager said the sauce is mayonnaise based, but the sandwich could have used more because it got a bit dry after a while.
Newk's has soups of the day. We got the crab and lobster bisque. I tasted more of the crab and lobster than I actually saw. There were a few strands of meat here and there. Still, the soup possessed a nice silkiness.
Pizzas were 10 inches in size and are the thin-crust variety. I loved, loved, loved the deluxe version with ham, Mortadella sausage, pepperoni, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, portabella mushrooms, olives, artichoke hearts, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. You'd think the crust would collapse under the weight of all the ingredients, but it was surprisingly sturdy.
Newk's offered several varieties of cake by the slice. The yellow cake with caramel icing brought back memories of the caramel icing my grandmother would make in her iron skillet. Cake slices were chilled, so if you get a piece, let it sit on the table and come to room temperature.
The cake and the pizza were enough to get me almost as excited about Newk's. My final bill of $24.80 made me pretty happy, too.