The past several years have brought a kind of pizza revolution to South Florida. Star Miami chef Michael Schwartz just opened his second Harry's Pizzeria. After six years, Dak Kerprich closed his farm-to-table Pizzeria Oceano in Lantana and opened the streamlined Swell Pizza in Delray Beach. The artisanal Pizzacraft just opened on Southeast Second Street in Fort Lauderdale. Then, there's Anthony's Coal Fired.
Nick's New Haven Style Pizzeria and Bar opened its first location five years ago in Boca Raton. Last year, a second location opened in Coral Springs, where you'll find the same thin-crusted pizza that's been served for close to a century in New Haven, Conn. I've never been to New Haven, but the secret to the crust seems to be the high-temperature, coal-fired oven.
Unlike the pizza at, say, Anthony's, the crust at Nick's is unique. It's sweeter than others, almost chewy. I couldn't help but think of Indian-style naan as I ripped into Nick's signature white clam pizza with mozzarella, oil and garlic ($19 small/$23 medium/$26 large). This is the white pizza that put New Haven pizza on the map, and Nick's does it very well.
More traditional toppings are available, including classic margherita ($16 small/$20 medium/$22 large). The Veggie Bomb has onions, peppers, mushrooms, hot cherry peppers, eggplant, black olives, artichokes and garlic ($20 small/$24 medium/$27 large). We were delighted with a meatball pizza ($15 small/$19 medium/$21 large), on which the meatballs were more like ground beef than actual orbs.
Other pizza variations include pizza flats ($11.50-$17.95) with such toppings as skirt steak with Gorgonzola, mozzarella, peppers and onion; and roasted chicken with pesto, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan and basil. There are also ricotta and mozzarella-filled calzones ($14 small/$18 large) with additional ingredients priced at $2 for small and $4 for large. Additional fillings include onion, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, tuna, artichokes and hot cherry peppers.
Starters include Rhode Island Style clear chowder with garlic and potatoes ($5.50/$9.5), risotto balls ($10.50), escarole and beans ($9.50) and a very good hot pepper stuffed with sausage ($10.50). The pepper is lightly bread and fried and served with marinara sauce. For many diners, it would be plenty for a main course.
Nick's doesn't forget that some people are looking for entrée salads when they go out to eat. The apple Gorgonzola salad ($10.50) doesn't disappoint. It's a big bowl of mixed greens tossed with walnuts and cranberries that's topped with rings of thinly sliced apples.
The menu doesn't stop, with an entire section devoted to coal-fired grinders ($9.50-$11), whole-wheat wraps ($10.50) and panini ($10-$11).
Among the seven pasta offerings is rigatoni Bolognese ($18.50), which wasn't the best version of this classic dish I've ever tasted. The pasta was overdone, and the sauce tasted a little watery. But it was a bonus to have big chunks of sausage in with the ragu.
The not-so-Italian grilled skirt steak ($24.95) was incredibly tender. It gets more Italian with the other items on the plate: overdone mushroom risotto, broccoli rabe and red-wine sauce. Chicken and sausage scarpariello ($18.50) was delicious, even if there were a few too many potatoes. Other classic chicken preparations include puttanesca ($16.50), Milanese ($16.50) and Marsala ($16.95).
Like the Boca location, Nick's in Coral Springs is a big, inviting spot with roomy booths and an indoor-outdoor bar. It's meant to appeal to a broad demographic, from young families early in the evening to folks who like to sample Nick's impressive beer selection later in the evening. They also serve Foxon Park soda, a regional brand from New Haven, which has been making white-birch-flavored soda since 1922.
As you'd expect, service is friendly and efficient. And you'll be surprised at how quickly the kitchen can get a pizza from the oven to the table.
Nick's New Haven Style Pizzeria and Bar
2444 N. University Drive, Royal University Plaza, Coral Springs, 954-800-7603; 2240 NW 19th St.,
Glades Plaza, Boca Raton, 561-368-2900; NicksPizzeriaBar.com
Cuisine: Pizza and Italian
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.- midnight Friday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday
Reservations: For parties of eight or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot