I wasn’t quite sure what to do when I walked into Newk’s Eatery.
Was I staring at a hostess stand or an ordering counter?
They must have expected this. They had someone there to help me.
She gestured to a giant wall menu that looked like a mashup between Uncle Maddio’s Pizza and Panera. The restaurant, which is located at the northwest corner of Honore Avenue and University Parkway, offered a choice of sandwiches, salads, soups, mac’ and cheese, and pizza. It’s the latest addition to the booming fast casual market in Sarasota-Bradenton.
My tour guide told me I could order something fresh and have it in 5-10 minutes. If I was being hasty, I could take something from their grab-and-go selections.
Still, I opted to wait, and ordered a turkey avocado sandwich and their simply salad. I pulled out my phone and prepared to entertain myself on Facebook for the next 10 minutes.
Little did I know, my tour guide had entertainment prepared for me.
She directed me to their condiment table and told me to help myself to whatever I wanted. I had my choice of capers, jalapenos, shredded parmesan, breadstick crackers, sweet pickles and a range of oils, hot sauces and other toppings.
For a generation raised on the “hey, free stuff is cool” concept — this circular table was paradise.
I was sold. My tour guide was awesome. This table of free shit was awesome. The restaurant, which offered a glimpse of cooks working in the kitchen, was awesome.
I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better.
And I was right. Because it didn’t.
My food sucked.
For a restaurant that had put so much pizzazz into presentation and service, I was amazed that the cheese on my salad tasted squishy like it had been sitting out for hours. The lemon dressing was delicious, but the lettuce was wilted. The avocado on my sandwich was brown. It looked like it had come from their grab-and-go section, which wouldn’t make sense because I’d waited about 8 minutes for it.
It also looked anything but fresh.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, and clearly you can’t judge a fast casual restaurant by its condiment table.
But evidently, I’m either ridiculously picky or Newk’s had an off five minutes.
I came back to the office with my tales of squishy cheese, brown avocado and wilted lettuce, and faced fierce rebuttals from three media colleagues. A fourth, however, was in my lackluster camp over his Italian sandwich.
I’m told the lobster bisque, mac’ and cheese, and loaded baked potato soup are to die for. The salad one officemate had was lush and crisp, and other was still dreaming about the Newk’s Q sandwich with its white BBQ sauce.
So, at their prodding, maybe I’ll give it one more go.
At very least, I’ll have a good time at the condiments table, but I’m not sure a buffet of free toppings is worth another $9.15 for lunch.