Update: no longer open
It seemed when Nicholas opened (about a year ago?) in Pennsport, the hub-bub about this casual, cozy, 30-seat BYOB serving New American cuisine was just a blip...and then I heard no more. Despite getting lost in the chatter of newer restaurant openings, we recently decided to try out Nicholas. The fact that Nicholas is a BYOB (they also have mixers for cocktails), and a five minute walk from home doesn't hurt!
Named for the two owners and chefs, Nicholas Matteo and Nicholas Sweeney, Nicholas features a menu of straightforward, local ingredients that change seasonally. Not only does the menu change seasonally, it changes weekly! While some items may look familiar from week to week, there are seasonal tweaks to those dishes, and some dishes will be completely new.
It's so nice to see a restaurant wearing the "local/seasonal" badge that actually cooks with what's available at the markets and changes the menu more than two or three times a year. Plus, even if you're not a vegetarian, some menus are so small that, one or two visits and you've eaten the entire menu! Then what?
Nicholas' interior was more casual that I had imagined, with warm walls and colorful paintings of scenes from the Italian Market, and amply large dark wood tables. Our server was also extremely casual, but in a very friendly and comfortable way.Complimentary, house made rolls arrived (this is one of two) with garlic butter. I don't normally eat the complimentary bread, as it's merely filler to me, but I do take a pinch to sample. My partner, who does partake in complimentary bread, loved the garlic butter.
I started with the salad of grilled Romaine, roasted red peppers, Molisterno cheese, and white balsamic vinaigrette. Too long on the grill, and Romaine gets overly charred and wilted, but Nicholas pulled this half-head off the grill at the perfect time. The vinaigrette was certainly tangy, but I love tang.My partner went with the mixed green salad with pine nuts, dried grapes, and sherry vinaigrette. Initially, I was, like,"Ooh, dried grapes. Fancy." Two second later I realized dried grapes are raisins. Funny how wording can make things sound better. This large plate of greens was dressed with even a harsher vinaigrette than the one on the grilled Romaine salad. I love vinegar, but I think this dressing was a bit much for normal folks, especially in such large quantities.
My partner ordered some fish dish that I can't recall, nor did I take a picture of, but he said it was cooked perfectly. The only vegetarian entree on the small (but remember it changes weekly!) menu is the Veg Plate, and the Veg Plate stays on the menu all the time. What's on the Veg Plate? "All the good stuff from the other dishes, minus the..." And that's exactly what I got...all the sides from the entrees that evening.
Starting with the carrots and going clockwise:
These baby carrots were simply prepared with still a little crunch in the center. Nice.
The pea puree was absolutely fabulous, tasting of fresh peas with a little acidity (lemon?) to brighten the flavor.
The Spanish rice with black beans was tomato-y, and a little liquid-y. While pleasant enough, I felt the side was not refined enough in flavors or consistency to be served at a restaurant. This dish reminded me of a dish I might make on the fly at home as a one-pot meal
The white bean, spinach, and olive tapenade was big on olives, as tapenades are supposed to be, but I only like olives, not love them, so ate half of this side.
The Gorgonzola mashed potatoes were cheesy and greasy-good, and had a homey feel with lumps left in the mashed potatoes.
Overall, I enjoyed all of my Veg Plate and salad, but felt that the food was not as refined as it could be. The food felt comfortable, though, like food I would make at home if I were trying to throw together a dinner party to impress (I don't make pea puree or Gorgonzola mashed potatoes when I'm alone, but it wouldn't be a stretch to make these at home), and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Fresh, seasonal, approachable and comforting food served in a casual dining room in a South Philly neighborhood...that's how I'd sum up Nicholas. It's like eating at home, but a touch nicer.
2015 E. Moyamensing Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148
Fri. & Sat., 5pm-11pm