Photo by Madoline Markham.
Newk’s Favorite salad.
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Mountain Brook. From fine dining to fast food and everything in between, residents can choose to eat pretty much anything at anytime. But factor in time, traffic and money, and your choices might be whittled down. One restaurant that fits the bill almost any time is Newk’s Express Cafe in Cahaba Village Plaza, adjacent to Whole Foods Market.
With three Birmingham locations, UAB, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, this eatery is feeding a whole lot of people. Headquartered in Jackson, Miss., CKJ Eateries owns the restaurant chain. The name comes from one of the company’s founders, Chris Newcomb, who describes the concept as fast-casual, one of the fastest growing segments of the restaurant industry. I recently sat down with Birmingham-based Marketing and Catering Director Paige Gilliland to see what makes this place such a success in our own community.
“Newk’s really appeals to so many different types of diners. At lunch time, we see tons of folks from nearby Office Park, moms with small kids, ladies in tennis skirts—you name it!”
While the meals are made to order, customers fill those famous large black Newk’s go-cups from a self-serve beverage station. Gilliland mentioned how much people love those cups, “I am sure some of our regulars have a cabinet full of them at home. They are just a great solid big cup, not something flimsy you’d throw away.”
Unique to Newk’s is the large glass table in the center of the restaurant, filled with all those extras that regular customers have come to count on for adding a little oomph to a salad or sandwich: glass jars full of capers, pickles, fresh Parmesan cheese, croutons, banana peppers and jalapenos. They can also find breadsticks and other flavors to spice up their meals: Sriracha sauce, Tabasco, dried basil leaves and crushed red pepper flakes.
Sandwich orders arrive on low-maintenance metal plates topped with waxed paper. Salads and sides are served in pretty, brightly colored bowls. And because the servings are so ample, you’ll need to know where they keep the extra to-go boxes: just under that center glass table.
My personal Newk’s favorite is the Italian: cappicola, mortadella, pepperoni, salami and provolone cheese piled on a toasted submarine roll, garnished with spicy Creole mustard, mayo, hot cherry peppers and Italian sauce. Gilliland said that the Newk’s “Q” is a very popular choice: white BBQ sauce on top of a grilled chicken breast with Applewood smoked bacon and Swiss cheese. Yum!
But there are plenty of healthier choices too like the Newk’s Favorite Salad made with grilled chicken, gorgonzola cheese, dried cranberries, grapes, artichoke hearts and pecans, topped with a sherry vinaigrette. Other traditional salad choices abound, and pizzas, soups and dessert round out the diverse menu.
“We see a lot of customers here on Sundays, after church. Mom and dad get what they want and the kids are always happy,” Gilliland said. “We’re also real close to a lot of the soccer and lacrosse fields. That’s when the ‘Express’ part of our name comes in handy. People can phone their order in and eat it on the way to practice or a game.”
Gilliland is quick to note that Newk’s Express Cafe loves being a part of this community and she feels privileged to oversee those opportunities. Last fall, customers knew something was up when those famous black go-cups turned bright pink. Gilliland spearheaded the Cahaba Village for the Cure event devoted to getting folks registered for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure run held in October. Neighboring businesses like Whole Foods Market and Yogurt Mountain offered specials too.
“I can’t tell you how much it meant to us at Newk’s to be able to donate $7,500 to this effort. We raised awareness for an important cause and got a lot of folks registered to run. It was terrific.”
Newk’s Express Cafe is a proud Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce member, and Gilliland has just joined the Chamber Board, representing the retailers of Cahaba Village Plaza.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. You can follow her culinary musings on-line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).