Nicks on Broadway: Sleek, Progressive Providence Diner

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Restaurant Providence

Johnson & Wales grad Derek Wagner stayed in Providence to open this stylish "diner."

Aside from the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales is probably America’s foremost culinary school. There’s a branch in Charlotte, but the flagship campus resides in Providence. As a result, the small New England town is littered with ambitious restaurants. Johnson & Wales grad Derek Wagner owns Nicks on Broadway, a sleek “diner” with black and red walls, a pressed tin ceiling and an exhibition kitchen. At breakfast and lunch, Nicks specializes in upscale takes on comfort food classics. At dinner, Wagner breaks out bigger gastro-guns. He even offers a tasting menu, which might be a diner first.

Since 2001, Wagner’s mandate has been to use “the freshest ingredients available & prepare everything to order.” He proudly lists local farmers, growers and producers on the menu, including The Barden Family Orchard, Yacht Club Bottling Works, Plum Point Oysters, and Newport Storm Brewery.

I started with a bottle of Doghead Fish 60 Minute IPA. Sam Calagione’s Delaware brewery was just featured in The New Yorker Food Issue, which left my palate yearning. Calagione is known for brewing beer using ancient Scandinavian recipes, so an India Pale Ale is tame by comparison. Dogfish also produces a 120 Minute IPA, which is supposed to have a wicked bitterness. The 60 Minute IPA was creamy and smooth and paired well with my peppery starter.

Salad Providence

Warm Shrimp Salad ($13) featured three firm, sweet jumbo shrimp on a cylindrical construct of smoked bacon, greens, roasted root vegetables – parsnips, beets and turnips – and creamy local goat cheese pockets. Wagner achieved excellent flavor and texture balance.

Pasta Providence

Penne ($17) with spinach, spaghetti, butternut squash, Parmesan & ricotta cheese was like deluxe mac and cheese, with lush interior and crisp crust. The entree came with sage-dusted garlic bread slabs.

Fish Providence

Herb-Grilled Yellowfin tuna chunks came submerged in squash polenta and topped with cider jus. The high-grade fish was expertly grilled, but the polenta was way too soupy.

Chicken Providence

Herb-Grilled Chicken ($18) was better served by submersion. Slices were moist, stewed with wild mushrooms, orzo, onions, carrots and vegetable broth.

Warm warm pumpkin bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream and maple-walnut pudding with candied walnuts were tempting, but Federal Hill cannolis beckoned. Too bad, since the cannolis we found didn’t turn out to be anything special. In fact, one filling tasted like spackle, but that’s another story.

At Thai noodle restaurants in Hollywood, they give you the option to have “soup” or “dry.” The food at Nicks is solid, but if Wagner subscribed more to the latter than the former, the food would be even better.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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