February 1, 2016
By Dawn Duncan
Nestled on the edge of Old Town and Midtown Fort Collins lies a gem of an eatery that will celebrate its first anniversary this month. Nick’s Italian is the brainchild of restaurant industry veterans Nick Doyle and Sam Slattery. Doyle worked his way up in the industry starting at The Rio as a bus-boy in 1986 and then spent 22 years there, ending as their Executive GM of Operations, followed by a few years at The Kitchen Next Door out of Boulder, where he also served as Executive GM. Slattery is the owner of four successful restaurants in Palm Beach, FL and the two business partners have been friends for more than 25 years. The breadth and depth of industry experience certainly shines through in their newest endeavor, Nick’s Italian.
Located at 1100 South College Avenue, Nick’s Italian is prominently located, easy to access, and targets a wide demographic, everything from CSU students and faculty, young professionals and families, and the business sector. The food is “homestyle,” inspired by Italian-American family recipes and amped up with the twist that James Beard award nominated chef, Clay Conly, Executive Chef and Business Partner with Slattery at their Florida establishments, created when writing Nick’s menu. Put into play by Executive Chef Brian Shaner at Nick’s, the recipes harken back to memories of the owners’ experiences growing up in Chicago and Boston and enjoying food made by Italian families. Doyle commented that he grew up as one of nine kids in a family outside Chicago and that once a week, the family would go out for a meal. “We ate a lot of meals at two Italian family restaurants – Monari’s and Verucchi’s. Verucchi’s turns 100 this year and these places served authentic family recipes and still do to this day.” My experience at Nick’s started when they opened last February. I was there on one of their first nights in business and it happened to be a Monday night when they offer their “Monday Night Whiner” special: Half off select bottles of wine from 5 pm to closing. There were three of us and we managed to have a few bottles (okay, three…) of wine and a gigantic pizza that was absolutely delicious. We were hooked on this place from first bite and we live in the neighborhood, so we were instantly excited we had a new spot to walk or bike to near our house.
“We looked at several concepts when thinking of what we wanted to create,” Doyle said. “We decided we wanted to bring Fort Collins really good homestyle Italian food at an affordable price, fully remodel this building we bought and make it really comfortable. We worked with an incredible designer and focused on writing a menu that would appeal to the masses,” Doyle added. Nick shared a few of the restaurant’s signature dishes with me. First was the Porchetta, which is the feature every Saturday night. If you’re a bacon lover, this is absolutely for you; it’s basically “pork within pork.” Pork belly is rolled out and then rolled within pork shoulder. The dish is roasted for 14 hours and amped up by a final baking that creates its delectable crust. Two hearty pieces of porchetta are served with a light citrus sauce, polenta, and broccoli rabe, the Porchetta Special is the star on Saturdays and is $15.75.
The other superstar is the “Sunday Gravy.” Being a Minnesota native and despite having Porchetta been to the east coast, Chicago, and Italy, I had no clue what this was. Sunday Gravy is an east coast term for the meaty marinara sauce made from beef short ribs, pork shoulder and sausage simmered together and made into a rich tomato based sauce. The Sunday Gravy is used in Nick’s Lasagna dish as well as the Ricotta Gnocchi. This is a “scratch kitchen” operation, and all but the gelato at Nick’s is made from scratch using top quality ingredients.
The restaurant also does business to business catering and special events, offers a Friday night clam special, 10 specialty pizzas and also 26 fresh ingredients you can choose from to make your own pizza, and a late night menu offering a gigantic slice of pizza (1/4 of a 16” pie), drink specials, and hours that on Friday and Saturday extend to 1 am. Nick’s will begin offering live music soon, including on their expansive patio this summer, and will feature a wide range of styles by acts from the Northern Colorado region.
It seems this restaurant has it all when it comes to filling a void in our city. This is a spot to try if you’re looking for cozy atmosphere, good service, and an approachable, affordable menu that’s fresh and homemade and that just might remind you of home.