Nick's Italian Café: This Tuesday's Exploration
Walk through the not so savory alley lined with garbage cans and stacks of wood (for the wood burning oven) and enter the backside of Nick's. This Jame's Beard award winning restaurant has a certain speakeasy feel this way. On a ledge around the walls sits empty bottles of wine ranging from some of the oldest Willamette valley Pinot Noirs to Barolos to old Burgundies. The standard pool table and piano (not really playable with a broken pedal) adorn the floor along with a 7 chair bar, 1 Booth, 2 half booths, and a handful of small tables, most made by a winemaker in town from old barrels. It can be calm or it can be packed to the gills depending on the night. It’s cozy and relaxing.
This is where the locals go to hang in McMinnville. Want to really feel like a local, rub elbows with the winemakers, industry peeps and other local characters? This place is a must. And with the growing number of tasting rooms and wineries in McMinnville, this place is a haven after a full day of wine tasting through the historic streets of MAC.
The great thing about Nick's back room is that you are privy to the entire Nick's menu sans the formality of the front room. In fact, on week nights there's often just the bartender working in the back.
The menu is Italian from head to toe, one page long, characterized by season, with your Italian staples- pizza and pasta, along with antipasti, soups and salads, and secondi (entrees).
And the food is mind blowing. The pasta is house made and served in the most succulent sauces. The dungeness crab lasagna alone is worth making a pilgrimage to the Willamette valley for. Some of my most recent favorites are the lobster tail perched on top a stew with calamari and mussels and rich cecci beans. Very rustic southern Italian, simple and yet exquisite. The lobster tail moist, decadent, & they nail the calamari. The sformato is delish. Served warm, it’s complex and comforting at the same time. The pizzas are mind blowing, of course baked fresh in the wood fire oven, and I highly recommend topping it with arugula, and if you’re into spice, they have a calabrian chili oil that will rock your socks. The roasted game hen is crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside with a bread salad that’s WAY better than it sounds.
The one decidedly non-Italian menu item is the crème brûlée, and bless them for it, even if it seems to generally be a played out dessert. I can’t say I like it more or less than every other dessert they make.
The wine selection is fairly concise and yetat the same time expansive in 2 areas: Oregon and Italy. You’ll find some amazing aged pinot noirs from the O.G.’s of the valley along with great Barolos.
Next Tuesday I will be post an entire day’s itinerary in MAC, which will conclude at Nick's.