Nick’s Place: Revisiting the Hidden Grexican Temple
Nick’s Place is one of the literal hidden places in the Garment District. The kind that we all claim to know and flaunt to Zagat’s, perpetuating the myth of the New Yorker who “knows a place.” Zach’s previous review highlights a hole-in-the-shaft operation that vacillated between pseudo-authentic tacos, Greek food, and basic sandwiches/breakfast all in one semi-secret location. Three years can change a place, right? It behooves another look.
Nick’s (takeout menu here) is hidden in a service entrance of a building on the north side of 39th, just shy of 7th. Above is a view of the sign from the northeast corner of 39th and 7th. There’s also a blackboard at street level, but it’s inside the vestibule of the door and hard to spot from a distance. It’s probably by design to prevent hungry fashion sales reps from making their way in and infiltrating the Oscar De La Renta offices listed in the building directory inside. Go inside, walk past the security guard, and you’ll see a bright orange space – that’s Nick’s Place.
The kitchen is tiny, just a grill, fryers, and a small prep space. I didn’t see any freezers, so that means either they’re very well concealed or they at least work with fresh enough items that they can go into a small fridge hidden from view.
Their specials go up and change daily, with the current day-by-day rotation also listed on their menu – good to know in case you want to plan around a possible craving for something coming down the pipeline. What ISN’T on the menu speaks volumes, though – no mention of tacos or changes on what’s there, so it could be whatever’s fresh and available they’ll taco up. Or whatever doesn’t quite run out yet. Take it as you will, but on both my visits there was always an option of veggie, chicken, or steak tacos.
The dining area is as you see it. Seven tables. Cozy if you’re feeling generous, cramped if you expected a nice loungy lunch. Some older fashion execs looking like a 1960s Hollywood reunion were at one of the four-tops pictured at bottom right on my second visit, my first visit was an otherwise standard Wednesday and had a pretty brisk takeout stream at around 1:15 PM.
Steak from my steak taco order on the grill in the unfocused distance. It came right out of a marinade and onto the grill, cooked to order. You’re not getting Chipotle bulk-cooked fast-food steak here. It’s very thin, maybe about 4mm thick, so it cooked up in just a couple of minutes.
Some pre-prepared salads, grilled veggies, and fruit cups. The chickpea salad looks intriguing and what looks like cole slaw behind it had raisins in it. Looks like a worthwhile try for all you cole slaw fans out there.
Here’s my steak taco order, around $8 before a soda, tax, and tip. It is as you see it – some very nicely charred marinated skirt steak with homemade guacamole. I didn’t get any shredded American cheese on mine – or any cheese at all – but I didn’t get the basic taco dusting of cilantro and onions that more authentic taco places would serve. It also wasn’t a massive California or Tex-Mex blob of toppings that drowned out the taco itself. Also lacking was an extra tortilla, the tacos began to suffer structural failures from the bottom as I picked them up and ate. Domo Taco was guilty of the same issue with literally the same results. The guacamole was creamy enough to be a topping, though, with enough chunks and a distinct fresh limeyness. I’m okay with simpler guacamole like this. Others may like it chunky, but this is theirs – and it didn’t cost extra, it was just on the taco without me even requesting it.
Here’s a close-up of a piece of steak. It’s a real fresh marinade with a distinct tanginess to it. There’s definitely some minced onion in there. Cilantro, maybe oregano, salt and pepper, some other bits and pieces of marinade. Whatever it was, it made for some darn good steak. There was plenty of it too; no meat was skimped and I felt quite satisfied afterwards, without any itis onset.
My second visit was for the spanakopita with a Greek salad. $9 before a drink and tax/tip. This kinda puts it at the top end of the ML range but it’s one of the best balances between quantity, quality, and value this side of street meat – it’s more than enough to fill you up, it isn’t a massive carb or fat overload, and it’s consistently available. Granted, I hold this basic Greek fare to a high standard, but this is Midtown Lunch, not Jersey Diner Eater Quarterly.
The Greek salad is a plentiful helping of Romaine lettuce with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, olives, and pepperoncino topped with feta. There’s an individual pita that’s been warmed on the grill and under it is a couple of stuffed grape leaves. Do yourself a favor and ask for the dressing on the side – it was just okay, not worth having all over the salad unless you’re a serious dressing junkie in need of a fix. It didn’t taste like bottled Italian dressing but it didn’t taste like homemade either. The feta was decent and a bit creamy, so a step or two above commercial junk you’d get at the supermarket.
The spanakopita are individual triangles of phyllo, not the slices some other places might do. It’s a double-edged sword: you’re not getting a big mass of spanakopita but you don’t have to ask for a corner piece (which is the best piece of any baked casserole dish – lasagna, meatloaf, etc., don’t bother proving me wrong). Two triangles come with an order.
Here’s the inside of the spanakopita, and it’s quite dense but not a giant thick-pack of spinach and feta. Still, though, it’s warm and fresh – tastes like homemade, like the spinach was cooked as leaf spinach but not from frozen chopped crap.
The grape leaves are a LOT of leaf, stuffed with rice and herbs, with no meat. If they’re storebought or made in a factory, it’s a damn good factory. The leaves were nice and yielding but it wasn’t soaked in oil. They were light and fully, not too densely stuffed, just warm enough. If you’re vegetarian you can do an order of just the grape leaves with some feta and pita and have a darn good light meal or snack.
So, Nick’s Place – it’s not Mexican, it’s not Greek, it’s not straight-up basic sandwiches, but it has just enough bits and pieces to do interesting things. Their specials run the gamut from Zack’s quesadilla wrap to pierogies to shepherd’s pie. I wouldn’t point authenticity-seekers to Nick’s Place, but it’s a decent inexpensive alternative if you haven’t figured out what you want and need to hit up something before throwing in the towel at your local do-everything-but-crappily create-a-salad joint or chain. If nothing else, there’s not too many places to get decent spanakopita with enough salad to ease your conscience.
The + (what someone who likes this place would say):
- Good value/nutritional balance for the money
- It’s always fun to feel like you’re infiltrating a building for a hidden lunch spot
- Fresh and tasty, nothing overdone or too greasy
- Amazing grape leaves
The – (what someone who doesn’t like this place would say):
- Doesn’t do much that’s new or interesting
- The Greek doesn’t compare to good Greek
- Tacos that are just okay at best, low in variety at worst
- No delivery
Nick’s Place, 550 7th Ave (although entrance is on 39th just West of 7th Avenue), 212-221-3294