When someone offers you the option of “Good news first?” or “Bad news first?” which do you take?
I’m the kind of person who likes to delay bad news as long as possible. So, on the good news front, Sis’s Family Affair in Newport has plenty to offer. The staff is unbelievably friendly, not only to the regulars but also to our table of newcomers. The sweet tea is top notch, and I’m a hard-to-please daughter of a born-and-raised Southern woman. There’s a full bar, and the menu options are numerous for vegetarians (but not so much for vegans).
We started our meal with fried pickles (appetizers range from $1.95- $5) and were happy indeed. The dill pickle spears are breaded in what appears to be magic and are served with a ranch dip. They were the highlight of the evening.
There were five of us at dinner, so we were able to order a fairly good sampling of the menu. My catfish was very good, even if the batter wasn’t cornmeal-based, the traditional Southern version. The outside was nice and crispy, and the fish inside was piping hot and flaky. The home fries that I chose to accompany the catfish were possibly the best I’ve had. The potatoes were cooked on the griddle and had a lovely brown, crispy crust. They were so good that my friend ordered a batch to replace his hash browns (more on that in a moment). A dinner order of cod (regular dinners run $10 and under, with specials like prime rib adding $5-$10) was equally delicious.
When we saw a sign advertising homemade pies, we knew we had to save room for dessert. The pecan pie was the winner in the dessert category ($2.95-$5), sweet but not sickeningly so, with the flavor of the pecans shining through.
Mildred (Sis) Sallee opened Sis’s on Sixth and Monmouth streets in Newport in 1976.
She relocated the restaurant to its current location on Monmouth in 1981, and seven years later Mildred’s daughter Sandy started a catering business out of the restaurant. Sis passed on the restaurant to Sandy in 2002 and Sandy undertook renovations in 2010 that included more dining and outdoor space. Sis’s Family Affair is true to its name, with the youngest members of the family helping bus the tables and fetch more sweet tea and water.
If the kitchen staff could perform even half as well as the front-of-house, I wouldn’t have to deliver the bad news about Sis’s.
Back to those hash browns — they seemed as if they could have been left over from breakfast that morning and they were definitely burned. The home fries that my friend ordered never showed up (though we weren’t charged for them) and one of our desserts never arrived, either. We were rather disappointed in that one, as they were funnel fries and we were all anxious to try them.
One of my companions and I chose salads to have before our entrées, and I watched in dismay as they were delivered to another table. A person at that table said, “We didn’t order them but we’ll take them!” It took until our entrées arrived before I could catch a server’s eye. My hot bacon vinaigrette was more vinegar than anything, which rendered it practically inedible. I chose a side dish of peas to go with my catfish and was dismayed to discover they tasted like canned peas. The flavor was OK, but the texture wasn’t. Frozen peas would have been a better choice in the winter and they often cost less for a restaurateur than canned ones.
My husband chose pork tenderloin for his entrée — again, disappointment. The tenderloin patty seemed as if it was previously frozen instead of a pounded-flat-and-battered tenderloin. And when the traditional white gravy finally arrived (we had to ask for it; a recurring theme of the night), it was also disappointing. It wasn’t nearly peppery enough and it seemed as if it had been made with margarine instead of butter; there was just something off about it. The tuna sandwich also seemed off, so much so that my friend declined to finish even a quarter of it.
The pies (other than the pecan) we chose were truly the saddest part of our evening. Someone clearly makes the crust from scratch and, when it wasn’t burnt, it was quite good. But I don’t see the point in making crust from scratch when you’re going to use canned fillings, as they seemed to do with the apple and peach pies. I have loved chocolate pie since I was little. Whenever I see chocolate pie on a menu, I order it. My friend Mark put it best when he said that Sis’s chocolate pie “tasted like gray.” It did. I didn’t taste any chocolate at all. The meringue on top was very good but not good enough to make the pie edible.
I believe having only one server responsible for taking orders could have solved most of our missing food issues. We had three. I wanted to like Sis’s. I love Southern food (having grown up eating in my grandmother’s kitchen in rural Mississippi) and Southern hospitality. Sis’s has the latter cornered. It’s the former that they need to work on.
Go: 837 Monmouth St., Newport
Surf: No official site, but look them up on Facebook
Hours: 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9-$15
Red Meat Alternatives: Yes, but not for vegans
Accessibility: Fully accessible