Nick’s Ristorante in Huntsville, Alabama
A Slice of Northern Italy with a Broad Sense of Service
by Jenny Adams photography by Brent Boyd
Sinatra’s best lyrics are floating through a microphone in the lounge. The lighting is dim in the larger dining room, where the woods are polished and gleaming. The steaks are sending clouds of charred perfume off hot plates. It’s another night at Nick’s. However, what’s become beloved in just a few short years by locals is often a refreshing discovery for those visiting from out of town. This steakhouse has a serious love of premium cuts and a philanthropic side for the men and women of our Armed Forces. Behind it, all is owner Nick Mikus—a man who served in the Army around the globe for nearly five decades before settling down to serve up some of Huntsville’s most lauded cuisine.
Nick opened his northern Italian steakhouse in 2010 alongside his wife, Sherry, who sadly passed away in 2015. In just eight years, the restaurant has become a cornerstone in the community. It’s located off-the-beaten-path, and for Nick, he’d want it no other way. “The location is paramount to what we do. I want people to come and find us,” he says. “We are the hidden gem of fine dining in Huntsville and The Valley, where you discover something remarkable and enjoy finding your way back.”
“This restaurant is something we talked about doing more than 40 years ago when our mom was still alive.” Inside the space, you feel like you are walking into someone’s home. There are family photos on the wall and the bistro has leather sofas. “We want guests to relax just like they would at home. The best compliment we receive is when guests tell us being at Nick’s feels like coming to your house for cocktails and dinner.”
You will definitely be welcomed by the family atmosphere and literal family ownership, but there are aspects of Nick’s you cannot find in most homes. The quality of steak on the menu is a serious component, and it sets the place apart in the Southeast. Nick’s is one of the only Certified Angus Beef operations in the state of Alabama, which means every single cut of meat is in the top 5-percent of all beef produced. Executive Chef Tom Chapman sources his 21-day aged cuts from three farms in the Midwest, and they are butchered and packaged specifically for the venue.
“We have a spice blend that Nick and I worked to create,” says Chapman, who’s run the kitchen six years now, and studied in the field under a noted Italian chef before joining this team. “Our seasoning is seven ingredients: salt, pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, ground oregano, cinnamon and coffee grounds,” he says. “The coffee grounds add a robust flavor that we find complements a steak very well.”
“Our most popular steak is the filet, and when you hear the term cuts like butter, it definitely applies,” Nick laughs. He loves sitting down to the New York Strip. “It’s my favorite,” he says, “because when I cut into a steak, I want to feel the heft of it. We also have a House Sirloin that’s the best deal going. It’s 12 ounces for under $30, and you can easily feed two people.”
A man who comes from a long line of proud Italian heritage, and who still has family operating restaurants over in Italy, Nick serves a traditional menu one might find in Florence, Italy, including a mean, thin-pounded veal and a delicate, rich, mushroom risotto.
“You won’t find the heavy dishes like lasagna on our menu,” Nick says, “because we stay true to the cuisine of Northern Italy. “We have a beautiful bar pizza on the bistro side of the restaurant that we do on the grill, and the few pastas we do have are very light, with house-made sauce. Everything is created here, including all of our desserts.” The creations behind the bar are the work of Lounge Manager/Mixologist Kenny Burke and his staff of highly trained bartenders. The service staff led by Joey Hicks is top of the line and second to none.
While the vibe might be a throwback to the classic, Rat Pack-era and the food might be very traditional northern Italian, what surprises some new visitors is the restaurant’s dedication to the men and women of the American military. Nick is a veteran himself, having served more than four decades in the armed forces. A Vietnam veteran, he’s lived all over the map, from time in the Pacific to years in Europe.
Nick’s Ristorante is a VA certified service-disabled, veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB). The sense of “family” here extends not just to the ownership and the staff, but to all those who have served our country and come in to sit and be served as a thank you. Nick opens the restaurant early to host events on certain days, whenever groups need a place to gather.
“We have a lot of regulars and within that, a lot of our customers are military,” he says. “We support Wounded Warriors, Still Serving Veterans, Veterans United and many other veterans groups.”
Many restaurant owners could look around the room and notice familiar faces. At Nick’s the clientele can see the devotion and near fanaticism some hold for his choice cuts of ribeye and super creamy risotto right on the bistro wall. The cheekily named Mafia Club was set up a few years ago, and it is, according to Nick, “about as good of a return on investment as you’re ever going to find.” Be sure to ask Nick or one of his team members about this tremendous offer.
Nick explains, “people love bringing business groups or large parties in here. It takes the hassle out of splitting a check or the awkwardness of paying. You just tell your server that you have a Mafia Club membership. They take your name and number, and you just sign—no credit cards or cash required. It comes directly out of your account.”
CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ABOUT NICK’S RISTORANTE
Follow us! Facebook and Instagram