MONROE -- Nick & Nino's Coal Fired Pizza & Sports Bar seems like a good place to have a lot of fun: a modern sports-bar atmosphere with banks of TVs, a multitude of beers on tap, and a great view of the handmade pizzas in the back of the restaurant.
It's safe to say there's a lot going on; maybe too much.
The menu lists 88 items, including 13 appetizers and16 pizzas. Maybe if there were fewer choices, our dining experiences would have risen from the average-to-good range to good-to-great.
For instance, the Steeler Nation ($8.99) is listed as a Philly cheesesteak with french fries and cole slaw added to give it a feel of a Primanti Brothers "sammich," which is a Pittsburgh institution. The problem was that the sandwich arrived without cole slaw -- a glaring omission, especially since cole slaw was a side dish on another order. The flaw exposed the dryness of the sandwich, which wasn't helped by the pedestrian Texas toast.
Nick & Nino’s
Coal Fired Pizza & Sports Bar
★ ★ ★
Address: 391 N. Telegraph Rd., Monroe
Hours: 11:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: nickandninos.com
The Fish & Chips dinner ($10.95) also was disappointing. Although marked on the menu as "fresh cod battered in our homemade batter," it appeared and tasted as if it were previously frozen and dropped in the fryer. The chips were shoestring fries, which also were likely frozen prior to being ordered -- which is peculiar since the fries on the Steeler Nation were definitely hand-cut and good. The cole slaw served with the dish was chunky and in a nice creamy sauce.
The pizza, on the other hand, was very good. With "Coal Fired Pizza" in the name of the restaurant, we felt like we had to try it. The Bada Bing ($15.99), a New York-style pizza, is noted as a restaurant favorite with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, Romano cheese, Italian sausage, spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, and oil. The flavors married well, but there wasn't anything that pushed it over the top beyond being a good slice of pizza.
The restaurant's 5th Avenue Strombolis are a great option if you're in the mood for carbs, as the chewy dough is filled with your choice of toppings. The Papa Joe ($7.99) comes with mozzarella, pepperoni, and Italian sausage. It could have scored extra points if it was served with a warm marinara sauce, but like most restaurants the dipping sauce was cold. It still had a nice flavor, full of spices. Interestingly, the strombolis are served with fries, or you could upgrade to sweet potato tots or onion petals for an extra $1.99. Order the sweet potato tots with a crispy crust and fluffy sweet filling sprinkled with brown sugar -- it's like dessert served with your meal.
I ordered the ribs and wings combo ($13.99) but was served the ribs and shrimp ($14.99) combo instead. The ribs were thick and meaty, slathered in rich barbecue sauce that was worth the aggravation of getting the wrong accompaniment. The shrimp was lightly fried and tasty, just not what I had in mind.
I still had wings on the brain during our second visit, so I had a 10-piece order ($7.99) with the sweet heat sauce. The menu boasts that the restaurant only uses fresh chicken. It's hard to argue after I wolfed them down. They were lightly fried, and the meat was tender. The sweet heat sauce was a nice touch.
The side orders -- crispy green beans ($5.99) and lobster bisque soup ($3.99) -- were hit and miss.
The beans were lightly battered and flash fried, with the green beans retaining their crunch while getting a little something extra with the crispy and salty topping. The creamy and tangy dipping sauce definitely had some punchy horseradish in it.
The creamy lobster bisque had a strong tomato flavor and a silky finish, but it would have benefited from chunks of seafood because the overall texture was unappealing.
If you enjoy the blend of butter with cinnamon and sugar, order the funnel puffs ($4.99) for dessert. The cubes of fried dough are tossed with a liberal amount of rich butter and cinnamon and sugar and served with a vanilla dipping sauce. There's plenty to share, but you might not want to, because they are so good.
Overall, the staff is friendly, but it seemed a little overwhelmed during one of our visits. The sports bar masquerades well as a family-friendly restaurant.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org