Making the Grade: Next Level Café

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PHOTOS BY MIKE WALLACE

By STACEY
PATTON WALLACE

As I’ve mentioned many times, I am a fried chicken freak. A little over a year ago, I noticed a billboard in Opelika, which advertised Susie K’s Country Cooking and decided to give it a try. To my delight, the restaurant had: 1. delicious Southern cooking, including fried chicken on the bone, as it was meant to be served 2. a wonderful staff and 3. a terrific location, being about one to two miles from my church, Central Baptist of Opelika.

That first Sunday after church, I came into Susie K’s and placed my to-go order. (Again, my husband Mike rarely eats lunch, or dinner, as we call it in the South. And again, I don’t understand that choice, but I love him anyway.)

As I waited, I met Suzanne Lowery, who, along with her husband Tim, owns Susie K’s. She was so kind to chat with me when she was so incredibly busy. As a result of that first of many dinners, which I’ve eaten there, Susie K’s Country Cooking was my sixth restaurant review for The Observer.

Therefore, I was happy to hear that on Wednesday, March 16, the Lowerys opened another restaurant, Next Level Café, at 1006 1st Ave. in Opelika in the former Jim Bob’s building. While Susie K’s was my sixth review, Next Level is now my 60th review for The Observer.

A few weeks ago, Mike and I met our friends Jack and William for supper at Next Level Café.

Nicole, the Lowerys’ daughter, who knows me well from Susie K’s, warmly welcomed us and said, “Hi, Mrs. Wallace.” Again, I haven’t been called that since I retired from teaching, so it makes me smile.

Nicole led us to our table. Then Anna, our server, brought us our menus. Anna was such a delight, being sweet, helpful and patient.

For a starter, Mike and I ordered the buffalo chicken dip, which is house-made and comes with tortilla chips. We shared it with our friends; it was really good. As Jack pointed out, the chips tasted homemade as well.

“They’re good and crispy, not hard and oily,” he said.

I was really happy to learn that Next Level Café serves brunch all day, so I went a little wild for a diabetic and ordered the cheesecake stacked French toast, which consisted of brioche, fresh berries and butter rum sauce. I also ordered a side of delicious Conecuh sausage. Oh, my three times.

Suzanne came over to speak to us. She said, “The butter rum sauce and cream cheese filling are homemade.” In the words of my much older brother Jim, “That girl wasn’t just wuffin.” I actually asked for extra butter rum sauce; I can only hope that my endocrinologist never reads this review. However, I did leave two bites on my plate; I thought that was a positive.

Mike was feeling “brunchy,” too, so he chose the biscuits ‘n’ redeye gravy, which had buttermilk biscuits, gravy and country ham. He also ordered an egg over easy; he enjoyed it very much.

Last, Jack and William both selected the bacon-wrapped sweet chili meatloaf, which came with cornmeal tempura green beans, whipped potatoes and a sweet chili glaze. They both really loved the entrée. I want to order it when we come back. And believe me, this is a DEFINITE do-over. Run, do not walk, to Next Level Café.

Jack and Mike both ordered cheesecake with butter rum sauce. And yes, you guessed it; I ate several bites of my husband’s dessert. Oh, my three times again.

Besides having delicious food, Next Level Café’s entrees had an eye-appealing presentation. Also, our meals were very affordable, and that’s important, especially in these inflationary times.

Besides our tasty buffalo chicken dip, other Next Level Café starters include: strawberry bruschetta, chicken ‘n’ biscuits and pimiento cheese ‘n’ bacon crostini.

Other brunch items include: breakfast biscuit, traditional breakfast, shrimp ‘n’ grits, pork ‘n’ greens and steak ‘n’ eggs.

Next Level Café also offers diners salads, sandwiches and entrees such as: pan-roasted pork chop, mac ‘n’ mornay, next level pot roast, chicken pot pie soup, ribeye steak and beef tenderloin.

Next Level Café is open on Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Next Level Café makes the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!

Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in The Observer. Stacey may be reached at retiredlangartsteacher2020@gmail.com

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