Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Newk's Express Cafe in Jackson, MS

I know, I know. What's with all the chains lately? While it's true I try to highlight unique places, consider the following: 1. Success in any industry is a struggle, especially the food business. When you have something great, it's easy to ask, 'Why reinvent the wheel?' 2. Lots of chains offer nutritional info, so you know what you're eating. 3. Sometimes it's worth taking a second look at a place you thought you knew.

Enter Newk's Express Cafe. Foodies take notice! Though Newk's dots the Jackson, MS, landscape like spots on a dalmatian, their refined take on cafe flavors and ample opportunities to customize will have you writing Newk's corporate to request a location near you.

I probably wouldn't have found Newk's Express Cafe if not for a Xeroxed menu tucked into our hotel check-in paperwork, but for three days I read the menu, wondering if I went what I would order. Don't laugh! More home cooks should make a hobby of menu reading. There's no copyright violation in stealing a genius idea like combining brie and apricot jam. Or chocolate and almost anything.

When we finally got to Newk's, I knew I'd order either the Chicken Salad Sandwich with grapes and pecans, the Vegetarian Club with roasted peppers and goat cheese, or the Shrimp Po'Boy with broiled shrimp and cocktail sauce on the side. I thought I had it all figured out, but I had no idea. After I ordered my Chicken Salad half sandwich with an ample half-portion of Lobster and Crab Bisque, the gal taking my order pointed to a stand that reminded me of a mini olive bar. Impressive glass jars were filled with capers, awesome sweet pickles, fresh grated parmesan, whole cloves of roasted garlic and a lot more. They even had my favorite hot sauce! The best part? The gal behind the counter said I could have as much as I wanted!

So I sipped my rich bisque (sprinkled liberally with fresh parmesan), and I ate my sandwich on its crusty, chewy loaf, all the while popping garlic cloves between bites. Translation: It was darn near a perfect meal. For me anyway. But that's the point! There are so many yummy, high end condiments and accoutrements at Newk's Express Cafe, whatever you order can be darn near perfect for you too.

I could wax poetic about how fun it was to tweak and re-tweak my meal, the tang of the bisque (kissed with essence of ocean from the lobster and crab), or how I have never ever tasted roast beef that tender, but the bottom line is that sometimes something worth doing is worth doing twice, or thrice, or more!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wasabi Sushi & Bar in Jackson, MS

I love sushi. What's not to love about flawless, fresh morsels wrapped in chewy sweet rice? Done right, not only are the flavors incredible, but the food itself is art on a plate. When the craving for sushi hits, nothing else will satisfy. So when sushi fever hit me in the heart of the South, bastion of fried food and butter sauce, I was worried. Would I be able to get my fix in Jackson, Mississippi? With a little research, I found Wasabi Sushi & Bar, and I had to check it out.

When I arrived in the midst of the skyscrapers of downtown, I was expecting an upscale dining experience at an upscale price, but I was willing to pay. After all, we're talking sushi! I just hoped it was worth the price. I needn't have worried, however. With a selection of rolls for only $5, Wasabi is far from overpriced. Even a regional item, a spicy Crawfish roll with Japanese pepper was only $7. And as to quality, I had no complaints. It is possible to get sushi in Jackson that's every bit as good as what I'm used to in California. The old standbys, the Philadelphia Roll and the Bar-B-Q Eel Roll, were exactly as they should be, balanced and very fresh. The salmon in the Philadelphia Roll was moist and smokey. The eel wasn't too boney or too fatty. Just meaty, sweet, and perfect. But the menu at Wasabi is more that just a well done rehashing of the same old thing. Sushi is a cuisine that just begs for innovation, and the Wasabi chef is no slacker. The Chef's New Creation section boasts no less than eight never before seen delicacies ranging from the Fusion Po-Boy, the Little Mermaid, and the Yum, Yum, Yum! There's even innovation in the value portion of the menu. With a soft skin and crunchy inside, the Rice Paper Roll is a no-rice wonder drawing strong inspiration from the Vietnamese spring roll and is served with hoisin and sriracha ($5.50).

Wasabi Sushi & Bar is fast becoming a business lunch favorite in the working center of Jackson. This baby new restaurant serves up an elegant dinner as well. It's beautiful blend of the high end and great bargains, old favorites and new flavors, makes Wasabi Sushi & Bar well worth a visit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Piccadilly Cafeteria in Nashville

I've eaten a lot of meals in Nashville, but my trip wouldn't be complete without mentioning a friendly little place I discovered one hungry day and was subsequently drawn back to no less than five more times. Piccadilly Cafeteria is just that, a cafeteria. After wandering past a promising line of down-home choices, I grabbed my tray, picked an entree, and then played mix-n-match with dozens of sides. I went for some old favorites (like sweet, crunchy broccoli salad with bacon and raisins) as well as a new, seasonal item called Carrot Souffle (a side and dessert in one, capable of delivering a swift sucker punch to the best pumpkin pie).

Piccadilly Cafeteria seemed quite popular with the senior crowd, but with daily $4.99 specials for a complete meal like Chicken and Dumplings, Beef Stew, and fat Chicken Tenders, hungry folks of all ages should storm Piccadilly walls en mass. Funnily enough, young people accounted for the second most represented group where we ate. Calling all families: As a bonus, on certain days kids can get a full meal for 99 cents!

Sure, I liked the simple, homey food (a lot!) and loved the prices, but our servers really made Nashville's Piccadilly Cafeteria feel like home. It was like having dinner with my grandma, "Would you like more...?" "I'll grab you some napkins," "Did you get plenty to eat?" When we left for the last time, one of them even hugged and kissed us goodbye saying, "Love ya." We'd only been there a week! Now I'm generally a fan the accessible yet non-intrusive waitstaff, but every now and then it's so nice to feel loved. Piccadilly Cafeteria serves that up by the heaping spoonful, for tummy and soul alike. It's not some glamorous eatery, but with so much to gain and so little to lose, it's really worth checking out.