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Variety Wins at Jax

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Jax Fifth Avenue Deli
and Ale House
5046 New Centre Drive
(910) 859-7374
Bottom line: Definitely devour one of their many thin-crust, gourmet pizzas.

DIP INTO PIZZA: Try either Jax’s wide-mouthed French dip or their thin-crust salmon and caviar pizza, and a s’mores pizza for dessert. Photos by Bethany Turner.

DIP INTO PIZZA: Try either Jax’s wide-mouthed French dip or their thin-crust salmon and caviar pizza, and a s’mores pizza for dessert. Photos by Bethany Turner.

The first thing diners should take note about Jax Fifth Avenue Deli and Ale House is that it is nowhere near Fifth Avenue. This is one of the silly little glitches in nomenclature, but arriving at New Centre Drive, one can’t miss the shiny silver frame of a diner which houses the sports bar. I’m actually not a fan of the shiny diner look, but I never criticize restaurants for their exteriors. Rental space is rental space.

The interior is a different story. It features a record number of televisions per square foot and some rather cool rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.  Their bar is also made from Cape Fear River driftwood, so what’s not to like about repurposing something of historical significance to our area? To say the least, it is a likable and comfortable room.

I chose a variety of Jax’s small pizzas during my few visits. While I waited, a remarkably friendly bartender named Eileen offered me a mason jar full of pickles. Sliced an inch-thick and an inch in diameter, the cucumbers had not been robbed of their crunch by the mild vinegar. The pickles were a fun and memorable gimmick, far better than bars with pretzels or trail-mix bowls for common consumption.

The cracker-thin crusts of the pizzas took me back to my time at the New Jersey shore. I don’t know that I’ve seen a crust that thin south of Washington, DC. For the record I enjoy all pizza crusts, from the crispy and thin variety to a classic Chicago pie. But for readers who are loyal to one crust or another, be aware that Jax doesn’t serve the thick doughy version.

I opened with a classic pepperoni. Razor-thin slices of the spicy sausages added just the right amount of bite to the pizza. Clearly, the kitchen knew its way around the classics. They also tinkered with inventive approaches to pizza. Some remained good, others plain great. The gouda and tomato included hints of smoke from the cheese, which mellowed the acidity of the tomato in a rather nice duet. I’m not altogether sold on the use of gouda in pizza since it doesn’t melt particularly well and can result in some texture issues. But I can’t argue with the flavor profile.

I was particularly impressed with the salmon and caviar pizza. The potency of the fish didn’t overpower the cheese, and keeping the salmon moist in a pizza oven is no small task. The caviar came on the side for diners to regulate to their own tastes. However, I would like to point out to the nice folks at Jax that the cup I was given contained more caviar than I could eat in a month—and certainly more than anyone should ever put on a pizza. This could be a nice cost-cutting suggestion from your friendly reviewer.  Still, the pizza was lovely.

The big winner came with the excellent barbecue pizza. Though the sauce was a touch watery for me, I loved the pungent provolone.  Here in North Carolina we’re no strangers to seeing a barbecue version of just about everything, but not everyone does it well. Jax has this one figured out. On this pizza in particular, the crispiness of the crust stood out and added a layer of texture to counterbalance the softness of pulled pork.

Though quite sated, I still had to give a couple  sandwiches a try. On return visits, I admired the restraint used on the chicken Caesar wrap.  Like I’ve noted before, over-applying dressing can be a common problem in a wrap. The light coating on Jax’s version gave all the pleasant garlicky goodness of a Caesar salad with none of the mess. And the light char on the roasted chicken gave hints of the fire cooking, which I enjoy so much. In addition the sun-dried tomato tortilla lent another dimension. While tomato is hardly a traditional element in a Caesar salad, I welcomed the taste.

The French dip turned out to be an enjoyable surprise. High-quality, buttery garlic bread on which it’s served definitely tasted sinful. But the best part of it may have come from a misstep; the au jus I received tasted more like French onion soup rather than roast beef pan-drippings. If this was a mistake, no harm done because it was delicious, but if it wasn’t, then, congratulations, guys! You’re on to something.  A French dip in French onion soup? Why didn’t I think of that?

Feeling just a touch masochistic, I took home a s’mores dessert pizza. Taking the same delicious thin crust but replacing the sauce with melted chocolate and the cheese with melted marshmallows, the dessert gave way to a cute spin on the campfire classic.  It’s a nice idea, but, honestly, I have never been all that fond of marshmallows. The dusting of cinnamon to mimic the graham crackers proved a bit too heavy-handed.  Still, it was not bad, just not my thing. Others who love s’mores likely will devour it.

Jax gave way to many visits with a fun atmosphere and an excellent variety of foods. From what I understand as well, they have huge salads and lots of piled-high classics, including their specialty Reuben (my next order), along with 25 taps and over 300 bottles of beer. I rather enjoyed my quiet afternoon there, chatting with the staff and eating more pizza than anyone should, but I suspect it will get more enlivened during upcoming playoffs or the NCAA tournament.

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  1. Anonymous

    January 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    You’re kidding me, right?!? The food and service here are some of, if not THE, worst in Wilmington. I was embarrassed to have parked my car there for fear that a friend would see it. The pizza – which does not have
    “thin crust” (it’s flatbread!) was BURNED. The pickles?!? How unsanitary is THAT?!? The sandwich meat AND bread was DRY and had the same texture as DUST. Everything was flavorless, to say the least. And don’t get me started about the atrocious service. This guy is grasping at straws… most likely won’t be here another 60 days. Hopefully not, anyways. Sorry, you tried and failed.

    • Jack

      September 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Wow, why the anger? I’ve never seen so much energy expended on a review! Sounds very personal..I am the ex owner of jax and tried very hard to please the folks in your wonderfull city. And yes we failed here but still have two operating in florida (7) over the last 30 years), which are icons in orlando with sales in excess of 5 million per year. I am truly sorry you did not like us, but, wow, calm down , you have other choices.. Peace.. Jack

  2. Matteo

    January 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Clearly, reviews consist of one person’s opinion, just as you, Mr. “Anonymous,” have your own. However, that you remain Anonymous makes me question your intent here. I’ve not eaten at JAX so I can’t say whether the food is good, but anyone lacking enough courage to own up to their own claim seems rather fishy. Just wanna point that out…

    • Anonymous

      January 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      It’s not just “my” opinion… everyone that I’ve ever mentioned “Jax” to has the same opinion… dozens of people. And the fact that I CHOOSE to remain anonymous has no bearing on the conversation. The fact that YOU haven’t even eaten there is what’s “fishy”. Because of that fact, you don’t get an opinion.

  3. Chris G.

    January 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Whenever someone who stays anonymous blasts a restaurant, I can’t help but think it’s a competitor with “sour grapes”. And by the way, I’ve eaten at Jax’s many times and have always been pleased- as have the people I’ve taken there.

    • Anonymous

      January 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      No “sour grapes” competitor here… heck, even if I WAS a competitor, there’s really not much to compete with. It’s bad food in a bad environment with a confusing menu and… well, that’s enough for now. Just listen to what others have to say about it. Waste your money if you want to, but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. Rob, you can pipe in here anytime! LOL! 🙂

  4. Matteo

    January 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    No, I have nothing to hide, Mr. Anonymous. And who are you? The opinion police? I can have an opinion about anything I want.

    And I agree, Chris G.—-at least about sour grapes. I’ve never eaten at Jax; didn’t even know it existed ’til I read the review. Gonna check it out though.

  5. Rob

    January 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Well I Have eaten there and I agree with Anonymous, Jax is pretty bad. Its probably my least favorite place in Wilmington. The food is either lukewarm, or overdone. Its a weird place because it tries to cater to deli style eats but also wishes it was a sports bar. The problem is that there are much better places in town for either one of those choices.

  6. Jack

    September 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    I am the ex owner of jax with 2 still in operation in fla. And to mr ” I won’t say my name” , all I can say is why be nasty? We had great success in florida for 30 years and yes , failed in Wilmington , but our locations in florida rival your busiest restaurants in your wonderful city .. I’m sorry you are so angry with us but we sure try hard to please…try to have a nice day.

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