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Long Live Nick's Pizza

[Hole in the Wall] Costa Mesa's little slice of Southern Italy

Nick’s occupies the middle echelon of Orange County’s Italian restaurants: not the magisterial dining experiences offered by Pizzeria Ortica or Canaletto or the Jersey Shore simulacra of Mangia Mangia and Rufino’s, but something in between—overwrought Roman interior design, with the Four Seasons and the Shirelles on the soundtrack, massive subs and pizzas alongside pasta dishes crafted with care and enough heft to satisfy the most ornery goombah.

It’s a city institution, whipping up Southern Italy classics since 1968, beloved by the old-timers for its retired owner, Nick Fodero, an irascible presence who inspired dozens of anecdotes that continue being told decades after the fact. His family still runs the place, having moved on up a couple of years ago from its longstanding digs into the newish Harbor Center with nary a drop in quality—even the head waiter, a burly Latino, talks to eaters with a raspy laugh stolen from a Scorsese flick.

There’s pizza, of course: baked golden and crispy, with your choice of toppings or specialties such as a creamy Bianca or Nick’s Futura, a sprightly pie enlivened by the addition of red onions. The only drawback? No pizza sold by the slice. The pastas can range from a basic, luscious spaghetti—whose meatballs are perfect orbs of beef—to the hefty masterpiece that is the fusilli with sausage. Your plate will feature dozens of the corkscrew pastas tinted a slight red due to the sherry splashed into the tomato sauce and cream, mixed in with thick sausage slices and sweet peppers. It might be a bit too rich—don’t try driving home after eating a full plate, as drowsiness will set in—but that’s why the portions are so huge. They’re meant to be eaten over the course of three days. And no matter the order, always request an extra side of tomato sauce, a liquid embodiment of life’s beauty, an explosion of basil and unadulterated tomato, perfect for the dunking of the pungent house garlic bread.

Dinner brings on a fuller meat menu: lamb chops and steaks that offer a more-humane option than Nick’s sweet, sweet veal. But what’s also great about Nick’s is they’re not afraid to experiment. A recent chicken-and-chorizo pizza can work in Santa Ana but won’t also freak out the blue-hairs and their middle-aged children who wobble in for lunch daily, much like they have for most of their lives.

Nick’s Pizza Ristorante, 2300 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-7566.

garellano@ocweekly.com

 
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