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Newk’s does casual with class

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published August 9, 2012 at 4:32 a.m.


Shrimp Po’boy and pasta salad at Newk’s Express Cafe.

— Newk’s is pronounced “nukes.”

And the restaurant calls itself an “Express Cafe.”

But don’t get the wrong idea that Newk’s nukes its food.

The fast-casual chain with locations in nearly a dozen states emphasizes freshness with its made-to-order salads, sandwiches and pizzas, homemade soups and desserts. (Newk’s derives from the last name of the founders, who also started and sold McAlister’s Deli, which is Newcomb.)

The second Arkansas Newk’s outlet recently opened in North Little Rock on Warden Road’s restaurant row (the first is in Hot Springs). A sassy, splashy space with arranged flowers on its fixings bar, colorful artwork and modern lighting, Newk’s has erased all evidence that the previous tenant was good ol’ shabby Shorty Small’s.

Also nothing like Shorty Small’s, Newk’s menu of casual and still classy food features nothing fried. Not even the Shrimp Po’boy is fried (although maybe it should be been: stand by).

Customers place orders with the friendly staff at the counter after perusing the wall menu board or — for those who want more time or just want to get out of the way — studying a paper menu at a table. They receive numbers, take a seat at a table or booth and wait — and not long at all — for their drinks and food to arrive. They can also visit the fixings bar, featuring everything from salt and pepper shakers and shredded parmesan to pickled jalapenos and roasted garlic cloves.

Sandwiches ($6.29-$9.99) come toasted on crusty bread with choice of coleslaw, “Tippah County” caviar (described to us as black-eyed peas with jalapeno and pimento), pasta salad, fruit or bagged chips (substitute a cup of soup or half salad for $2.29).

My friend praised the Newk’s “Q” sandwich ($7.49) of grilled chicken breast, applewood smoked bacon and Swiss cheese — especially the restaurant’s signature white barbecue sauce, which she described as savory and unlike anything she had tried. She also liked the slaw.

I liked how my Shrimp Po’boy ($9.99) was presented — on a plate lined with logo tissue and secured by toothpicks — but that was about it. I was skeptical of the shellfish sandwich’s description: a dozen broiled shrimp (not fried?), olive oil, lettuce, tomato, pickles, sliced red onion with cocktail sauce (no remoulade?). And I was saddened by the spiritless sandwich of underseasoned shrimp that seemed more boiled than broiled. At least the pasta salad had pep to it, as did a glass of Barefoot pinot grigio. The cafe sells wine by the glass as well as bottled domestic and imported beer.

I had plenty of room for one of Newk’s desserts, which tempt diners at the entrance. I chose a rich brownie ($1.99), but it was easily beaten by the ambrosial strawberry cake ($3.69 slice; $42.99 whole) my friend ordered and was gracious enough to share.

For kids, there is a Little Newk’s Favorite menu — selections like sandwiches (with chips or fruit) and pizza served with a drink ($2.99-$4.49).

With it being 100-plus degrees outside, we never considered Newk’s soups, available separately ($3.49 for 8-ounce cup up to $11.49 for 32-ounce jumbo) or in combinations with half sandwiches and half salads ($7.69-$7.79).

As Newk’s advertises its catering and call-ahead services (not to mention its Grab-n-Go selection of prepackaged items), our second order was carryout: a Caesar salad ($3.79 half, $5.29 full) and two 10-inch pizzas ($7.29-$9.99) and cake, this time caramel.

The Caesar featured fluffy romaine, parmesan cheese, slightly spongy, mild croutons and a clingy, zesty dressing.

Newk’s doesn’t skimp on its pizzas, featuring a thin, crisp crust with some chew to it and plenty of toppings. The Five Cheese Pizza ($7.99) had a fabulous flavor thanks to a blend of mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, smoked gouda and goat cheeses, as well as sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil and pesto. The Deluxe ($8.99) was a delight with ham, mortadella, pepperoni, roma tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, portabello mushrooms, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, mozzarella and provolone cheese and tomato sauce.

The caramel cake was sweet, but no strawberry. We’re sure the pineapple and chocolate and other flavors that rotate are tasty, as are the crispy treats (regular and peanut butter, $1.59). But we’ll not be straying from the strawberry.

Newk’s Express


Address: 4317 Warden Road, North Little Rock (with another location in Hot Springs) Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Cuisine: Salads, soups, sandwiches, pizza Credit cards: AE, V, M, D Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 753-8559

Weekend, Pages 31 on 08/09/2012

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