The moment you take a bite that raises your eyebrows in unsuspecting surprise. The time a forkful of food makes your eyes roll back in delicious pleasure. The second you scrape the last of the remaining sauce on your plate, determined to eat every last drop because it’s so good.
These are the dining experiences that we live for. These are the moments we wish for in every restaurant. This is what makes eating a beautiful part of life.
They happen every so often, not infrequently enough to be considered a unicorn experience, but special enough that when you discover the restaurant that delivers you are immediately converted as a devout follower. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fine dining restaurant, a coffee house with fresh pastries, or a neighborhood family restaurant – this is a significant moment that can be enjoyed in any setting when someone pulls it off right.
Nick’s Homestyle pulls it off.
Nick’s opened in February of 2015 after months of construction in the old Number 1 Chinese Super Buffet on College across from campus. Owner Nick Doyle brings his many years of industry experience as the former Executive General Manager of The Kitchen Next Door in Boulder, and the former Regional Manager for Rio Grande restaurants throughout Colorado. This is a restaurant built by hands-on, in the trenches experience. Designed by Nick’s friend, James Beard-nominated chef Clay Conley, and Nick’s Chef, Brian Shaner, Nick’s Homestyle’s menu features a variety of Italian-American cuisine and New York-style pizza created with fresh local ingredients.
The restaurant features a contemporary design with an open-kitchen pizza bar, lounge, arcade room and big screen TVs. Many of the design elements in the restaurant come with their own story, such as the interior doors that came from a bar in Idaho Springs; reclaimed factory windows from a pickle plant in Longmont and reclaimed wood from train cars found in the Midwest. The atmosphere here is pretty sweet.
My first visit was for dinner with my lovely dining companion, Robyn. I started with one of their specialty cocktails, the Rosada made with silver tequila, rhubarb, lime juice and strawberry compote.
Their specialty drinks are exceptionally sweet. It’s almost like dessert before dinner. Even though, it was still delicious and mixed well. As a tequila aficionado, it was mixed enough that you could still taste the deep, sharp flavor of the tequila while avoiding the trap of being a glass of fruity mocktail.
We shared an item from their small plate menu for an appetizer. The fried mozzarella sounded perfect and light. The mozzarella is made in house, so the cheese is noticeably fresh and flavorful.
That plate was gone within a minute between the flavors of fresh cheese, crispy breading, and savory marinara sauce.
Robyn ordered the Orrecchiette for dinner, made with house-made fennel sausage, rapini, and chilies.
It had a nice layer of spiciness, herbiness, and saltiness in each bite with al dente pasta. It bordered the level of too salty ever so closely but not quite crossing the line. It definitely seemed to come from the sausage. It was still pleasant and tasty.
I ordered the Bucatini Carbonara with pecorino, bacon, and mint.
HOLY HELL. This was amazing. The pasta was thick, chewy, and oh so fresh. It was addictively enticing. The bacon added a good level of saltiness and the egg yolk delicately nested in the middle of the noodles added a deep creaminess to the already cheesey sauce. I especially loved the minty aftertaste. I LOVED THIS.
After nearly licking our plates clean (at least I pretty much did), we moved onto dessert. They make some of their desserts in house, with the exception of the gelato and sorbet. We shared their tiramisu with house-made mascarpone.
I was moved to raised eyebrows and eye rolling. Good god. It’s the best I’ve had in Fort Collins, no contest. I don’t think I’ve ever had a creamier, light and fluffy tiramisu.
I returned for lunch with my friend, Nathan. After much effort in the decision making department between the two of us because there are so many enticing menu items, he ordered the Chicken Scallopini with fennel salad with oranges, pecorino, basil and mint.
Besides the pasta, I think the vegetables stand out as impressive aspects to the menu here. I’m not a person who orders salad often, but each salad here is distinctly delicious, and most importantly, you can taste the local freshness that’s served. The chicken in this dish was good, but it was the salad that made it great.
I ordered the pizza-by-the-slice lunch special with a glass of house wine on tap. You have the option of getting two slices or one slice with a side salad, and you can choose any of the salad options from their menu. They only offer two different slices of pizza – either pepperoni or some kind of meat option they have that day, or a vegetable topping. Specialty slices aren’t available on this one.
I went with a pepperoni slice with a side salad of baby kale, pine nuts, parmesan, and dried currants. Their house wine is a barbera, which was a delightful addition to lunch!
Now, if I were to go back and do pizza at Nick’s, I’d skip the typical options and go for a specialty pizzas with a group of friends. The slice for lunch is fine, and it’s good New York style pizza with a thin crispy crust, but I think the slice options are a little too standard (understandably from the restaurant’s perspective). I would rather have ordered the fresh pesto dish but knew someone would flip their shit if I didn’t review any kind of pizza here, and I’m not about to order a whole pizza at lunch. Such are the limitations of one mouth, one stomach, and a budget when it comes to pizza reviews.
Either way, the slice, salad, and glass of wine were a wonderful lunch with great company in fantastic atmosphere. And despite the lack of enthusiasm for pepperoni pizza, this was one of the better by-the-slice lunch options I’ve had because the salad and wine were what brought it up to top notch expectations. Again, the vegetables here are fresh and delicious enough to convert any dedicated meat lover.
We decided to hit up the dessert menu and split the triple chocolate pudding, which is made in house, and has a layer of crumbled Heath Bar in the middle.
Well, here are the two desserts you MUST order on your next visit. Life’s too short to pass on pleasures like this. Seriously. Go run around the block a few times if you’re counting calories. It’s worth it. This chocolate pudding is rich, silky, and good to the battle of spoons for the last scoop.
Nick’s Homestyle has landed themselves as one of my favorite new dining spots because of the high quality of so many dishes, particularly pasta and salads. I’ve been dreaming about them ever since my first bite and can’t wait to come back. They’re special enough that I’ve been immediately converted as a devout follower.