Nick's on Broadway

A neighborhood champion
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 3, 2007

Nick’s on Broadway | 500 Broadway, Providence | Wed-Sat, 7 am-3 pm + 5:30-10 pm; Sun, 8 am-3 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.421.0286
It’s to be expected that many new restaurants will end up where old ones used to be. Thus, when we drove up to the relocated Nick’s last week, nostalgia hit hard. The space is the site of the original Leon’s, one of the restaurants that started the food revolution in the Renaissance City. Nick’s is a spooky reincarnation, as lines form outside for weekend brunches, the Downcity crowd creates a bustle at lunch; and locals and foodies mingle at supper.
Derek Wagner’s cooking has always been memorably chic, given his diner-like former digs. In the new spot, the décor lives up to the food. If you face the open kitchen, you see gleaming stainless steel next to ruby-red tiled walls. That same red is picked up in the counter-top, with Oz-like sparkles. The rest of the 30-seat dining room is given over to black banquettes, stainless steel tables and a back-lit olive wall above the banquettes. No frills, no art work, just sleek and spare.
You’d expect the same no-fuss, no-muss attitude with the presentation of the menu items and that proves to be true. A large bowl of black bean soup ($7) has a few sprigs of cilantro visible in the center, but not fancy swirls or vertical crackers.
The cucumber “salad” ($9) turns out to be a marinated mold of cukes and halved cherry tomatoes, balanced on a slice of grilled rustic bread, a few greens off to one side and a small dollop of feta on the other. A deconstructed salad that’s neat as a pin.
Vidalia slices and tomato chunks nicely flavored the soup, but beware of the floating jalapeno slices. My mouth skimmed across one accidentally, and I motioned the waitress for more bread to quench the flames.
The salad’s wonderful dressing was a bit creamy and just tart enough for the cucumbers (English) and the baby greens. I was a bit surprised that the cukes weren’t local, but the dry summer has wreaked havoc with that crop. It was more surprising to learn that the feta comes from Australia. Granted, it’s a prize-winner, and granted, it’s delicious. But there are quite amazing goat cheeses from around New England, such as from Crystal Brook Farm, otherwise used at Nick’s.
Other appetizers include a warm spicy shrimp salad, potato gnocchi with smoked bacon, and the popular Farmstead cheese plate. Several main courses feature grilled items: sirloin, pork loin, chicken, boneless duck, and yellow-fin tuna. Each comes with intriguing side dishes, such as potato-zucchini cakes or mushroom-basil-pepper succotash.
The sides may also be ordered a la carte, and we chose the potato-zucchini cakes ($5), even though we had accompanying starches with our entrées, the pork loin ($18) for Bill, and the curry grilled chicken ($17) for me.
Bill’s pork was expertly pink, as requested, and the “barbeque” adjective in the menu indicated the sauce on the side. The meat was placed on a bed of watercress and a base of creamy cheddar polenta. He was quite pleased, as he was with the Chardonnay from Nick’s fine wine list.
My chicken was described as “with couscous, tomato, cilantro and baby fennel,” and “with” was the operative word. Chunks of grilled chicken were so thoroughly tossed with the grains and veggies that they were completely hidden at first. I also discovered that this was a slightly fiery curry — or had my taste buds just been inflamed from the soup? No matter; it was delicious, with plenty of texture.
The house-made desserts are a warm fruit cobbler, lemon pudding, vanilla crepes with berries, lime pound cake, and dark chocolate pot de crème. Okay, it’s predictable — we went for the chocolate. Dense and decadently chocolatey, this custard deserves to be slowly savored, with a bit of whipped cream in one bite or a fresh raspberry in the next.
The breakfast menu at Nick’s gives early risers many mix-and-match options. Rosemary-ham with eggs, or maple-pork sausage? Choose your omelet ingredients from a list of two dozen items. Or have an herb-custed tofu wrap. Hotcakes, French toast, bagels with Maine smoked salmon — they’re all there, with Nick’s special twist. Ditto for the lunch menu, with pasta dishes as well as wraps and ice cream floats.
Still in the neighborhood and still loved by the neighborhood, Nick’s on Broadway is also there for the rest of us, hopefully for a good long time. 

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