Background: Thin-crusted, Neapolitan-style pizzas have been served in New Haven, Conn., for almost 100 years. Called apizza by New Haven locals, it's baked in a high-temperature coal oven that makes for a remarkably thin and crispy crust. The classic New Haven pizza is white clam with cheese and garlic. Owners Anthony Giovanniello and Nick Laudano wanted to bring a bit of Connecticut to South Florida.
Overall impression: Pizza. Beer. Soda. Stick with this trinity of menu items at Nick's and you'll leave very satisfied. Veer from it and you're on your own. I visited Nick's with two New Haven pizza experts. While he mostly agreed with my take on the pizza, he said the crust here was thicker and chewier than what he remembered.
Ambience: This may be the coolest restaurant to open in Boca in years. On Sunday night, the place was hopping. The Dolphins were showing on the TVs, and the crowd included families, couples and singles watching the game at the bar. It felt like a nice neighborhood restaurant. Tables have Formica-looking tops, and the patterned floors look like vintage 1920s. Also, the ceiling is papered in reproduction newspaper advertisements from the '20s and '30s. A gorgeous open kitchen showcases the brick ovens. The indoor bar is open to the outdoor patio.
Starters: Unique parmesan fries ($5) are cut right from the potato, dusted with garlic and served with delicious garlic aioli. They are thin as potato chips. Three-to-an-order risotto balls ($9) are Italian-American bar food: cheesy orbs plated with a ramekin of tomato sauce. Salads are shareably large, but mostly mediocre. Shaved fennel and orange ($9) with lemon vinaigrette would be so much better if the fennel and red onion were chopped in smaller pieces rather than served in awkward rings. The artichoke and arugula salad ($10.50) could do with less dressing. And the house salad ($8) is an uninspired plate of romaine, tomato quarters, red onion, chick peas and black olives. Anchovy fans — I'm one of them — will love the Caesar ($8) with romaine, parmesan, white anchovies and fresh croutons in a creamy garlicky dressing.
Entree excellence: The white clam pizza ($17 for 12-inch, $21 for 16-inch, $24 for 18-inch) is a thing of beauty — one of the best pizzas I've tasted in years. It's topped with grated parmesan, oregano, garlic and clams. No tomato. We added hot peppers to the mix and were blown away. Extras range in price from $1.50 to $6, depending on the topping and pizza size. Pizza arrives piping hot on huge, wax paper-lined trays. Another classic New Haven pizza is called Mootz, short for mozzarella, and this one also was a hit ($11.50 for 12-inch, $14.50 for 16-inch, $16.50 for 18-inch). It features oil and garlic, and we added bacon and onions as toppings. The most unremarkable pizza was the meatball ($13 for 12-inch, $17 for 16-inch, $19 for 18-inch). It's topped with a few stray pieces of underseasoned ground meat. And I prefer a pizza with heavier tomato sauce. I'm told this thin layer of sauce is another New Haven custom. Stay away from rigatoni Bolognese ($16), which purports to be a "slow cooked beef and pork ragu." The rigatoni was so overcooked that it was falling apart, and we couldn't find any meat in the sauce, just a strange-tasting piece of Italian sausage.
Sweet!: Another disappointment, partly because each dish was decorated identically with a swirl of chocolate sauce and raspberry. Not everyone likes raspberry. In fact, some people hate raspberry. The tiramisu ($6) was mushy. Bread pudding ($5) tasted like a 1950s dessert casserole, complete with canned pineapple and coconut. Cheesecake ($6) was markedly better. My favorite was the chocolate espresso cake ($6), a dense, creamy slice of richness. But why introduce raspberry to a perfectly fine piece of chocolate?
Service: Youthful, but mostly excellent.
Liquid assets: They have very good beer on draft and in bottles, but be sure to also try one of the Foxon Park sodas ($2.25). They have been produced in Connecticut since 1922 and served alongside New Haven pizza for almost as long. Selections include Kola, lemon lime, grape, cream orange, a lemon-lime flavor called Gassossa and wintergreen-flavored White Birch.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun