Nick’s New Haven Style Pizzeria and Bar

Yo! Stef and I checked out Nick’s last night and we both really enjoyed it. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the city of Boca Raton. We go way back. I gr aduated from FAU and met my wife there. We lived in a couple of different apartments in the city. I managed the Duffy’s on St. Andrews Blvd. on 2 seperate occasions, and I started my restaurant/hospitality career as a food runner there. Stef has worked in Boca as a hairstylist for almost as long as we have known each other.

However, for all of the history that we share, I consciously try to spend the least amount of my time as possible in Boca. I feel like there is a “tension” that enters my body as soon as I cross the city line. My blood pressure goes up. The traffic. The fancy, fancy cars. The meticulously manicured medians and trees. The finely dressed citizens. The overall hyper-hectic “New York-ness” that pervades. The shiny “faux-luxury” and newness of everything. It’s just not for me.

The one saving grace of Boca for me is the food scene. Constantly evolving, Boca is a great spot for restaurants. Because of a super demanding (and tech-savvy) clientele, if a restaurant is not on it’s “A” game at all times, the people will stop coming, and something newer and hipper will move into it’s space. For restaurant owners in South Florida, I believe that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I have a “Boca list” of places that I want to check out, and high on that list was Nick’s.

Growing up in Massachusetts, we were vaguely familiar with a land to our south called “Connecticut,” but rarely ventured there, unless passing through en route to New York City. The Boston area, in my opinion, has some of the world’s best pizza joints. There are a lot of Italian “pizza shops” with classic, greasy, NYC style slices (and hopefully Sicilian style deep dish), and there are also many Greek owned pizza places, which use a slightly different technique as the Italians, but still cook the pies in traditional pizza ovens. There are also many hybrid “roast beef/seafood/subs/pizza” houses, that serve a damn good pie as well. Only in the northeast!

New Haven, Connecticut serves it’s own version of pizza, and it has become a regional specialty. This is “char-grilled” pizza, served well done. Yes, the crust is blackened in the coal-oven at 750 degrees. Yes, it is very thin, so be careful not to overwhelm it with toppings. Simple is best here. Nick’s New Haven is a comfy spot with wide booths and a big indoor/outdoor bar. The place is open air, with outdoor seating as well, and a huge open kitchen so you can see the guys making your pizza. The walls are subway tiled, and the ceiling is covered in old advertisements. It’s a bit more cozy than a traditional “pizza joint.” There is a nice beer and wine list and the menu includes “coal fired” subs and salads as well as pizzas. Stef and I chose to build our own and picked meatball, onion, and mushroom, as well as a Panzanella salad with tomato, cucumber, red onion, capers, and lots of oil and vinegar. Special shout out goes to the meatballs, absolutely delicious. Everything was great, and absolutely huge. The place is a bargain for all of the food you get. The salad and large pizza are easily enough for 4. We took  half home. Great place we really enjoyed it-

Aaron

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El Camino

Hola, El Camino opened less than a year ago in Pineapple Grove just off Atlantic Ave in Delray, a bustling restaurant corridor. I have wanted to try it, and the other night, Stef and I gave it a go, and we absolutely loved it. In San Diego, there is a similar joint, also called El Camino (go ahead, see for yourself), which we also love. Not sure if they are owned by the same folks.

Anyhow, the Delray location is really stunning. It is made to look like an old warehouse (without being cheesy and covered in Mariachi stuff or other Mexican cliches) somewhere in the dusty southwest, down to the “reclaimed” lighting and exposed brick and concrete. A very long and tall bar flanks one side of the restaurant, and displays what looks like 500 different bottles of tequila. A small open kitchen is along the back wall, and the remainder is a mix of booths and tabletops. It is a relatively small restaurant, and on a Tuesday night in July, there was an hour wait for a table. This is still the “hot spot” on Atlantic Ave. Most of the other restaurants nearby (The Office, Park Tavern, etc) were not as busy.

So, on to the food and drink. Get a margarita. They are really well done. Served in a low ball glass and adorned with a lime wedge skewered on a stirrer, so you can squeeze your lime and then stir it into your drink in one fluid motion (I don’t know why but I was really impressed by this). Upon sitting, our server informed us that every Tuesday is $2 taco night. Choose as many tacos as you want from a list of 15 or so, mix and match, do whatever you like. I ordered fish, carnitas, “gringo” (ground beef), and pork belly. They were all very tasty, but the clear winner was the fish taco.

I hope they keep the $2 taco promo going past the summer months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes away. Imagine this: after work happy hour crowd party of 12. Each guest orders one of these tacos, 2 of these tacos, 3 of these tacos, etc etc. I would imagine this would become quite a challenge for the kitchen. Years ago in my restaurant days, we ran a taco “football special” where you could mix and match tacos, choosing from only 3 or 4 different ones, and it really messed up the kitchen. The components for each taco came from multiple stations (fry, grill, pantry, etc) and the “back and forth” between cooks to compose each one became a real headache. The promo only lasted for a short time. A taco special remained, however you could not mix and match anymore, every taco order of three had to be all the same. Either way, I’m sure the El Camino kitchen is designed to make massive quantities of tacos, and are “set up for success.” When we were there the pace was relaxed and the vibe was really great. Lots of after work folks drinking and couples having dinner. We really liked this place and I think you will too-

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Flavor of India

Flavor of India opened about a year ago on Dixie Hwy in Lake Worth, right around the corner from us. I have wanted to try it out and the other day I had my shot! I love Indian food. I was introduced to it at an early age by my friend Russell, who’s mom was from Pakistan. She loved me and treated me like one of her own. She would take the three of us out for dinner occasionally, sometimes to this amazing Indian/Pakistani joint near where I grew up. It’s really a lot like Italian food, with rice instead of pasta. Use the bread to mop up the gravy. You get it. Anyhow, I hope Flavor of India develops a great following and stays around for awhile, because I loved the food.

I ordered tikka masala with chicken (I know, the most “Americanized” Indian food dish, but it’s my FAVORITE!) and garlic naan bread. This was enough food for 2 for about $16. Absolutely crazy huge portion. The guys running the joint were as friendly as could be. Indian music videos playing on the flat screen, just a super clean (if not super bland decor) to the place. Comfortable. They do a dine in special for 2 which can be vegetarian or not. Looks like a little of everything. Sounds like a great deal. Too bad my lovely wife is not big on spicy food. She knows that if she has dinner with a friend it’s Aaron’s Indian/spicy Thai/Mexican food night. Go support these guys. Great place-

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The Community Organics

If you are like me, the thought of “healthy and wholesome” eating sounds a little scary. In the past, when we have gone to Publix with the intent of stocking up on fruits and vegetables, most of them have ended up going bad in the fridge. Until we found Community Organics. See, the trick is: don’t go to the vegetables, have the vegetables come to you! Every 2 weeks a box containing a rotating mix of produce arrives for us. For $40, I think it’s a steal. Enough to feed a family of 4 for 2 weeks. When you get your box it’s like Christmas. You lay it all out and come up with a plan. When you see it all in front of you it makes you want to be creative in the kitchen.

Every box contains something that I am unfamiliar with. Last week it was rainbow chard (which we chopped into a salad with feta, peaches, and pecans. This week it’s white beans (which I’m still thinking of how to prepare. Maybe grilled?) If there is anything left over after a week or so I blend it with almond milk or OJ and drink the veggies. No waste. Every 2 weeks, AFTER I get our box, I go to Publix and purchase “staples” like some chicken to grill, eggs, rice, pasta (carbs and proteins to go with the fruits and veggies). Maybe it’s just me, but it’s made grocery shopping a whole lot easier. Plus, organic stuff tastes WAY WAY better than Publix produce and it’s made me a healthier eater. I have lost 5lbs in a month. Check em’ out, see what you think-

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El Paso Taco

Since Aleyda’s closed on Okeechobee Blvd, we have been faced with the arduous task of locating a formidable tex-mex restaurant in the area. Around Lake Worth there are a ton of “taco shops” like Lupita’s, but we are looking for something more substantial (air conditioning and booze). Word had it that Aleyda’s moved to Northwood, but I’m glad I called first the other night, because the family has thrown in the towel on the Aleyda’s brand for good. The Northwood location is now closed, and Aleyda’s brother Miguel has reincarnated Aleyda’s family recipes at his new Miguelito’s Cancun Grill in Royal Palm.

Anyhow, on the way to try the “new” Aleyda’s, I remembered hearing about El Paso Taco, located right at the corner of Military and Southern, next to the airport and countless topless bars. Since this place is closer to home, we decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad we did. It really fit the bill. On a rainy weeknight around 7pm, we were the only customers in the joint, which seats about 75 or so. This is a family place, and numerous family members were hanging out at another booth with the kids, just shooting the breeze. The joint is spotlessly clean, with a few TV’s showing the World Cup, a jukebox, and big wide booths with plenty of room to stretch out and relax.

Our server (who was the only person working) was super friendly and quick with refills of chips and salsa, margaritas, and beer. Stef ordered the enchiladas and I had the combo, with carnitas tacos, enchiladas, chile relleno, etc etc. You know the drill. super filling fresh tex mex chow served on the plate the size of a hubcap, with big bottles of green and red salsa at the ready. I am now in my happy place. El Paso Taco is perfect to just sit and chill after a long day, get buzzed, and eat some great food made from scratch and served with a smile. My kind of place. Check em out-

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A Bronx Tale Pizzeria

Hey! Got a hot tip for a great pizza joint in the neighborhood. Yes, better than Downtown Pizza. Check out A Bronx Tale in a decrepit strip mall in east Lantana. It is pretty classic. A little grimy. The service is a little surly. And you know what, that’s just what I want from a place called a Bronx Tale. It smells like New York when you walk in. Fresh dough, simmering sauce, basil, and Parmesan cheese. A TV manufactured in 1989 blares an old episode of COPS in the corner. There are 3 or 4 crappy booths.  I would guess that 99% of their business is takeout or delivery.

This joint really reminds me of Armando’s, my favorite pizza joint of all time in Cambridge, Mass. near where I grew up. The pizza is just a great, classic, greasy, floppy, NYC style slice. The crust is chewy and salty. Don’t leave without getting the meatball roll, thin sliced, really well seasoned “meatball-esque” mystery meat, globs of oily mozzarella, and sweet marinara rolled up in a huge buttery, doughy, crust. It’s as big as a small child. Will you need a nap after eating it? For sure. Food like this is my comfort. It’s what I grew up with. If you are not drinking an ice cold coke (in a can) with your meal you are doing it wrong. This is the perfect food for curling up on the couch on a rainy night, ordering a movie, and going to town-

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Jugofresh

We have been a little obsessed lately with “juicing,” recognizing the health benefits of leafy greens everyday and willing to fork over large sums to get someone else to do the “heavy lifting.” Juicing at home is hard. Sure, the ingredients are not expensive. Go to your local produce market and stock up on kale, spinach, pineapple, orange, maybe some herbs, and you too can juice at home. The difficulty is waking up early to blend the juice and keeping the ingredients fresh, consistently. We have found that juice smoothies are great after working out or a day on the go, and locally, we prefer Palm Beach Smoothie in Boynton.

The other day we found Jugofresh while walking around Wynwood in Miami on our day off. Jugofresh is like Jamba Juice, but healthier. There are several other locations around Miami. This location, behind Wynwood Kitchen, was a little tough to find. It is less than a year old, but people have found the place. It is a bright and large space, with lots of artwork. There is no big menu of items when you walk in. It is sort of a cross between a retail space and a restaurant space.

There will be several workers prepping raw ingredients behind the counter. You will not notice a blender. You will not hear a blender. The juicing itself goes on behind the scenes. The juices are bottled and sealed on site throughout the day. I think this is a pretty smart idea. In most smoothie bars, you order, then wait for about 10 minutes as the raw ingredients are prepped and blended in front of you. At Jugofresh, your juice is already waiting for you when you walk in, so the service is super fast. My only concern with this is that the “value” is going to be lost on some people. At $10-$11 a pop, these guys are not cheap, and to just walk in and be handed a bottle in 10 seconds, while convenient, may throw some people off.

There are about 30 different varieties of juices, all stamped with a three day out expiration date. How do they control waste? By constantly replenishing supply, how do they guarantee that these bottles will be sold? Very interesting concept. They must constantly keep a few bottles of each at the ready, and with the help of analytics, decide par levels. I’m a food service nerd, and this really fascinated me. For the juices themselves, Stef and I both opted for “deep green” varieties, the most “hard core” option with seaweed and spirulina, and I must say, they were a little rough. There is no sugar added. It really tastes like 12 ounces of blended kale. It does a body good. This stuff cures cancer (no shit!).

Overall not sure what to make of this concept. It will be successful in wealthy and health-conscious areas (NYC, Miami, LA), but I’m not sure that really healthy “rough” tasting $11 bottled juices will sell in many areas of the country, much less Florida. Check them out if you are so inclined and tell me what you think-

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Oriental Food Market

Although the name of this place is hopelessly politically incorrect, give them a break, the sign outside is vintage 1980, and nothing much has changed since then. Oriental Food Market is located in an old strip mall in West Palm Beach on Dixie Highway. It is a small dry goods market, but those in the know come for the Thai takeout. On any given weekday the place is crawling with 30 something office workers from downtown in crisp white shirts and ties. The food comes out quick, it’s cheap, and served with a smile. It’s perfect for your lunch break. I ordered the panang red curry with pork and green peppers over rice. Huge hot portion for $9. Really good stuff. Oh! It’s cash only so don’t forget! Get some…

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Cha Cha

Good afternoon friends! It’s been awhile. Stef and I haven’t really been going out much. When we aren’t working, its been sandwiches, chicken, rice, and veggies at home. We are saving money, and trying to watch what we eat as well. Not too exciting, I know. I guess I will never be a big time foodie blogger guy. I just can’t eat like I used to. I’m turning 32 this year. I know. Old. When I eat a burger and fries now it is assured I will be up at least three times during the night for water, and I will feel like a bloated whale in the morning. I have been turning more and more to Asian food, because a. I love it. b. It is lighter fare that is typically just as satisfying than say, Cheesecake Factory.

Cha Cha is a real deal ramen restaurant. It is in a newish strip mall in Wellington near the mall. It seats maybe 20 people at most. It is not fancy. It almost feels like it’s half nail salon and half restaurant. There is not even a sign outside. You have to know about it. An 87 inch flat screen broadcasts Japanese soap operas. The music is typical “sushi joint radio.” There are several palm plants around. It is spotlessly clean. Although they have it, this is not necessarily a sushi place. Get the ramen. I don’t know of any other place that specializes in it in these parts. There are about 50 different bowls to choose from, each with a different broth and proteins. I ordered the pork broth with roast pork and veggies. It was spicy…silky…delicious. Make sure to arrive early, especially on the weekend. There will be a wait…

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District Table and Bar

District Table and Bar has been open for about a year up in Stuart, FL. I found it using Yelp. What a great find. First off, you have to be looking for this place, you won’t stumble upon it. It looks like a podiatrist’s office, tucked into a small strip mall in the middle of nowhere. This is the destination. You are not going to go for a stroll and a night on the town after dining here.

The concept is farm to table and the restaurant lists all of their sources for meat, seafood, and produce on blackboards inside. The decor is very simple and clean but very comfortable. There are no “2 tops.” Everyone gets a big table to spread out. Thumbs up. The place seats about 100 guests. The bar seats about 20. They only serve beer and wine. They offer several interesting craft beers on tap, but not too many. They are only open for dinner 6 nights a week. They know their clientele. They know the area. They are just doing their own thing up there in Stuart. And it seems to be working out quite well.

We arrived last night (Sunday) around 7:30 and found a 20 minute wait, however, the hostess informed us that tonight was “buck a shuck” (dollar oysters) and we could sit at the bar. The clientele wore lots of pastels and was engaged in lively conversation when we found 2 remaining seats at the bar. Everyone up here looks like they golf, but even with our tattoos and blue hair, we felt very comfortable here. The vibe 30 minutes north of West Palm is completely different. It is simply more cordial. There are more smiling faces. People are more laid back, in general, up here in my opinion.

The staff was all 20-30 somethings who looked like they were having a complete blast. The service was “easy friendly.” Very natural. By the end of the night, the 2 head chefs (bearded 30 year old dudes) were sitting at the bar chatting it up with the pastels. It seems that this place is run by young people that truly value their customers and have a great time doing what they love. Everyone working here took such pride in the place, you could feel the love. This restaurant is clearly loved in the area.

Anyway, for the food; the menu changes regularly based on availability, but the concept is American comfort food. We started with the bread. For $2.50 an order, we decided not to share. I’m glad I had my own order. Warm toasted kalamata olive bread is paired with rosemary butter and it is to die for good, especially with the “side salad” that we shared, which was served in a big stainless steel bowl and big enough for 3.

Portions are large, and the value is outstanding. We also shared the burger, topped with bacon and a fried egg that was messy and delicious, and the shrimp and grits, served “deconstructed” with a fried egg, green onion, and tasso (smoked thick cut ham chunks. Mix it all together and it becomes magical. We obviously loved this place and you should definitely check it out if you are in the area-

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