Photos | Shane Rice
Nixon’s | 1801 Old Shell Road | Mobile, AL 36607 | 251-586-8780
Serving relaxatives to Midtown Mobile since 1927.”
That’s true, even if only partially. The old Nixon’s, at the corner of Kenneth and Old Shell, was a drugstore long before it became a bar, and it had a different name or two in between. That little spot at what seems to be a malfunction junction is in good company with the iconic Dew Drop Inn across the street. I say in good company, not in good competition, as Nixon’s would be foolish to take a stab at amazing hot dogs, chili burgers, gumbo and glass-bottled Cokes. It would be hard to dethrone those guys. Nixon’s instead focuses on the drinks-and-dinner crowd.
Their brand of relaxatives is more along the line of beer taps, sandwiches and wraps, with owner John Thompson letting veteran Brian Reed handle the cooking. We’ve known Reed’s work for a long time, and though this menu may seem like it’s not as fancy as some chefs would prefer, don’t take it as being average. J.T. is still letting Reed do a little flexing for the cameras.
There are still no fryers here, the same as Thompson’s other famed restaurant, Callaghan’s (co-owned with Richie Sherer), an aversion he seems to hold dear. But with that limitation, the sides aren’t the same as Cally’s by a long shot. Yes, there is potato salad, but it’s loaded. Hot macaroni and cheese replaces Oakleigh’s pasta salad, and a fantastic coleslaw subs for the cucumber and tomato salad. Three may be a magic number, but they also offer green beans.
We made it to Nixon’s on a warm Wednesday evening just before the cyclists blasted in from their downtown ride. I knew a few and we made some small talk, but I was here to eat. So was Katie. So was Henry, kind of. The place was already full, and when our waiter came, we were intimidated by the taps. Did I mentioned there were a few? Twenty-one to be exact. That doesn’t even include the eight wine taps, so I’d say that’s a lot for such a small facility.
Katie led with a pint of Dixie ($4.75). I couldn’t think of anything better without feeling pretentious. Hey, Dixie was good enough when I was sneaking them at age 16 on the 48th floor of the Sheraton on Canal in New Orleans as I worked a convention for my uncle. What a memory. Having one that evening was like buying a ticket for the Nostalgia Express. Some of you remember the late ’80s/early ’90s when people just put the word “express” after everything, right? It’s like today’s word “outlaw.”
Our waiter lit up when we asked for the creamy pesto dip ($6). You can get it with chips or veggies. We, of course, got it with both. You get the basil flavor in the finish; it’s not overpowering, and the smooth texture was suited for the carrots, celery and cucumber. I have to admit I enjoyed it with the healthy potato chips the most, and it was better the next day.
The Nixon ($11) is the namesake sandwich. Roast beef strip is shaved a little thick, with caramelized onions, melted provolone, lettuce and tomato. We added horseradish aioli to compliment the beef, which is the Christian thing to do. The loaded potato salad had just the right amount of fixings. Excellent.
It is rare that I pass up a Cuban sandwich. The Nixon nod is called Have a Cigar ($11). The pressed hoagie houses pulled pork, shaved ham, Creole mustard and Swiss cheese with Wickles. Wickles originated in Dadeville, Alabama, and if you’ve not tried them, you probably root for Ohio State. Get on the bandwagon. The sandwich is juicy and fine. So was the coleslaw. More vinegar, slightly sweet and perhaps a hint of heat, this crunchy slaw could go well with whole catfish or fried chicken. That says a lot.
I have to stop myself from eating too much tuna. I’d already nailed a tuna steak over a Caesar salad earlier that day. But when I saw seared tuna wrap ($11) on the menu I had to have it. Lettuce and cucumbers were enhanced with a wasabi aioli, but there was a sweetness that must have come from the toasted sesame dressing. Maybe it’s because I’m tuna-biased, but this goes on my short list of best sandwiches in Mobile. Perhaps you could call it an “outlaw” sandwich.
The macaroni and cheese that accompanied wasn’t bad at all. My kids will love it, though I was partial to the slaw, chips and potato salad.
There are things I will certainly be trying in the near future. Looking at their sauce menu, I’d like to pair the honey mustard aioli with the turkey-bacon Swiss. Roasted garlic aioli may go with the New Yorker, and Sriracha aioli may dress up anything or be served on the side. Perhaps they will let me bring my own French fries. That would be the perfect dipper.
I almost tried a meatball sandwich, but held off. The adult grilled cheese (with four cheeses on Texas toast) should be a hit, especially if you add ham, grilled onions and tomatoes. One of my boys is already a fan of the quesadilla. The kid’s menu is bigger than most with grilled chicken fingers and PB&J as highlights as well as smaller portions from the regular menu.
We had no time nor room for dessert and took a little bit of everything home with us. If we are ever in the position to try the sweet stuff, it will definitely be the Buzzed Brown Cow ($5). It’s basically a chocolate-cherry Coke float with a shot of Kahlúa. Now that’s what I call a relaxative fit for an outlaw.
Don’t expect to get them on Monday. They’re closed. Open from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., on the other weekdays and 11 a.m to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, you’ll find the right time to relax.
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