Nick's Italian Cuisine
2285 140th Ave NE
Bellevue WA 98005
Definitive Mom and Pop with a Slice of Cheesecake
By: Grant Y
Nick's Italian Cuisine is a little hard to describe. From the outside, it's completely unassuming. In fact, we had passed by it several times without it even registering on our restaurant radar. On the inside, Nick's is can only be described as "interesting".
The restaurant has been designed to resemble something of a Mediterranean courtyard. Partial walls topped with vines arrange themselves on a raised island, while faux wooden awnings circle the interior. The effect is pseudo-veranda and zealous 80s architecture. Nick's floors are covered in thin red carpeting that might have been transplanted directly from an aging skate rink. Coincidentally, across the street is Skate King, one of the few remaining skate rinks in the area.
Jabs aside, as much as it may seem that we're picking on an aging restaurant, we can't refute the fact that looking at the well trod interior of Nick's is to also see decades of history looking back.
For over twenty years, Nick and his wife Pamela are the literal mom and pop operation that has carved their niche in the back of this unassuming Bellevue strip-mall. Serving Italian and Greek cuisine to a steady stream of regulars, Nick's clientele leaves their mark not with a pair of polished Bruno Magli, but with a cornucopia of little league trophies and ribbons, set against a wall of smiling families framed in dusty polaroids.
If you miss the subtle charm as Pamela greets your curious party in grandmotherly warmth, you might never fully comprehend the child sized stuffed pandas or Snow White and her seven dwarves purposefully placed in your upper periphery. But if you are attuned to the unspoken word, you'll realize that before Seattle embraced words like haute and www, there was Nick and Pamela.
Nick's was full of surprises. For one, it's rare to find a place that will serve up both Italian and Greek. But more importantly, we got that special kind of service usually only found in true blue small time diners. For a starter, we ordered the enjoyable and crispy Lamb Kreatopita, a little phyllo dough triangles stuffed with spiced lamb. The strong flavors of dill, salt, and pepper made for a tasty treat.
For my main dish, I ordered the classic Chicken Parmesan which came with a bit of spaghetti and tomato sauce. The cut of chicken was cooked fairly well though, occasionally, I'd hit a dry and tough patch and the heavy egg based batter was almost gravy like. But the red wine based tomato sauce was delightful. Resembling fairly ordinary grocery store noodles, the spaghetti on the side was a bit disappointing.
But to make up for any disappointment, the now fabled cheesecake made its move. Egged on by our sweet server, we caved in and bought a slice of the cheesecake. One bite in, we all knew we had chosen well! The flavor was complex and had undertones of citrus, buttermilk, cinnamon and as our server revealed, a bit of Kailua. An easy recommendation!
"Hi Ho! Hi Ho!, It's off to work we go!" That's what was running through my mind as soon as we sat down at Nick's. Like Bryan said Nick's is very unassuming from the outside, but once you get past the door, it becomes a completely different story.The owners of Nick's really have an affinity for Disney characters as they are seen hanging from the rafters above every table. Some might say it's a little kitschy, but I thought it gives the place a personality.
The Spaghetti with meat sauce was described as being made with a tomato and red wine sauce. It seemed a little watery, but overall it was decent. The tomato base and wine flavors really came through in the sauce and the pasta was mildly fresh. Combined with the garlic bread topped with a dill sauce, you couldn't a more filling dish on the menu.
The homemade cheesecake at Nick's was quite the treat. Made from a secret recipe that only Nick knows, it was lightly infused with liquor and had a crust that you could die for. Everyone was fighting to get a pieces and it's a definite must try.
Like everyone else, I enjoyed our lamb kreatopita appetizer. Made with layers of crispy phyllo dough and stuffed with herb flavored lamb, it made for a great starter dish.
My lasagna tasted like a homemade recipe, but not necessarily the type that made you fight for seconds. The red sauce came off as a little too runny, while the beef was oddly dry and crumbly. Much of the flavor was diminished as the dish never had the opportunity to (literally) stay together.
As a cheesecake connoisseur, I give amazing marks to Nick's on their tart, lemony cheesecake with an almost ice cream texture. Part of the secret I believe is the cold temperature at which the cheesecake is served, as the texture is surprisingly soft, yet retains its shape well.
Frankly speaking, Nick's may not be meant for foodies. Nick and Pamela, have fed a generation of families through their establishment, evidenced by the countless family photos and thank you cards along the walls. So what may look like a restaurant stuck in the 80s to strangers like us, may in fact be a second home to a steady crowd of regulars. With Pamela's grandmotherly nature and genuine enthusiasm, it's easy to see how one can be enamored with the homey charm of Nick's.
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