From pizza to sandwiches, new deli does many things well
Jax Fifth Avenue Deli
and Ale House
5046 New Centre Drive
Bottom line: Definitely devour one of their many thin-crust, gourmet pizzas.
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.