Correction; Piri piri spices are South African in origin, not South American, as I stated in a previous column. I apologize for the error.
Two fast/casual restaurants opened recently and both are off-shoots of established players in the South Florida food scene; one a small family-run operation and the other big player in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant industry.
2244 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
The folks behind the popular Nick’s Italian Restaurant & Upstairs Supper Club in the Galt Ocean neighborhood have taken over the space formerly occupied by Humpy’s in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors. At first glance you might not even notice the difference. The format is the same fast-casual format; step up to the counter and place an order for a giant slice or a whole pie, grab a seat in the intimate dining area or on the outside patio and watch the boy candy pass by and when your order’s ready the friendly staff brings it over. Even the menu is similar. Starters, most priced less than five bucks include garlic rolls, meatballs with a dollop of ricotta and garlic cheese bread. The fish dip, served with crackers, jalapenos and diced onions is $ 8.95, but offers a sizable portion.
For main dishes, there are a few salads, calzone, hoagies and Stromboli but, for most, the pizza’s the main draw. I’ll say right off the bat; I’m not a fan of New York style pizza, so I skipped the slices and report here on the evaluations of my fellow diners. They were divided; three said it was very similar to Humpy’s, one liked it better and the other thought it wasn’t as good.
The basic 20” cheese is 14.99, add a buck for each topping. Gourmet 16” pizzas range in price from $16.99- $18.99. All are available as slices, starting at $3.50, for basic cheese (with extra toppings 50 cents each). The gourmet slices range from $4.25-$4.50. Among the gourmet options are some typical options veggie, meat lovers’, etc., as well as more unusual offerings such as; mac & cheese, shrimp scampi, bacon blue cheese burger, buffalo and the Pizzarelli special. The shrimp scampi was loaded with jumbo shrimp cooked to perfection (normally shrimp on pizza ends up over-cooked) and the combo’s toppings were plentiful.
Nick’s is now run by Dominic, the grandson of the founder Maria. Dominic’s grandmother may have been born in Italy, but she lived in the Chicago area before moving to Fort Lauderdale in 1971. That explains the unique specialty of Nick’s Pizzarelli; Chicago-style hot dogs. Regular readers of my column know that I love a good Chicago-style wiener. Nick’s has got it down; from the genuine Vienna hot dogs to the correct toppings; yellow mustard, chopped onions, slices of tomato, a slice of pickle, celery salt, bright green relish and sport peppers. They even use the requisite poppy-seed encrusted bun (although mine was edging on stale and wasn’t steamed, as a proper bun should be).
Nick’s even offers cupcakes, although unlike Humpy’s they aren’t made in-house and my chocolate brownie topped creation tasted as if it had been stored in the fridge too long. My friend’s coconut cream confection, on the other hand, was fresh as could be. While Nick’s Pizzarelli doesn’t offer the birch beer that Humpy’s did, it does offer some artisan sodas on tap, as well as beer and wine.
The guys at Hunters and Alibi who work up an appetite dancing and drinking will be happy to learn that Nick’s is open until 2:30 in the morning Thursday through Saturday and until 11 or 12 other nights. I predict we’ll start seeing late night crowds gathering (shades of Spiritus in Provincetown).
Spatch Peri Peri Chicken
3848 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale
It’s amazing that a little family-run operation like Nick’s can get its concept so right and that a place like Spatch developed by the folks at the Restaurant People, who also own YOLO, Tarpon Bend, Boatyard and Sun, Surf and Sand, as well as restaurants and clubs in Tallahassee and Las Vegas, gets it so wrong. In what appears to be the first of what the group hopes will be a chain, the fast/casual restaurant specializes in grilled chicken with a South American influence.
Spatch cooking means that a chicken is split down the back, opened up and grilled. The purpose of cooking a chicken spatch -style is to speed up the cooking process and end up with crispy skin. Peri-peri flavor is a South American sauce featuring lemon, peppers and spices that can vary from mild to scorching hot and is the South American equivalent of American BBQ. When prepared correctly spatch-cooked chicken with peri peri spice is unbelievably wonderful.
Unfortunately, at Spatch, it is anything but. The day of our visit, everyone’s chicken arrived barely warmed-through, with anemic grill marks and with rubbery skin. The spice level in the sauces is hardly discernible. Service, while friendly, wasn’t particularly well informed about the menu (or even how to operate the cash register) and couldn’t describe the differences in the supposed heat levels, other than to tell me “the hot one is spicy.” Duh! The side dishes were equally bland and uninspired. If the Restaurant People group expects this to be beginning of a chain of fast/casual spots, they’re going to have to reinforce this weak link.