Located just a stone's throw off the stretch of I-95 that coincides with I-278, Nicky's BBQ and Beer Garden is a former adult bookstore converted into a raucous bar. You enter into a large bar area with a few TVs and many stools against a long tile-fronted bar with no recess area for your legs. Further back is a game room with more TVs. A more comfy dining room to the right has a stage in one corner, a photo booth in another and wine racks on opposing walls. Many of the tables feature black leather sofa seats for two. It's easy to imagine this place getting it on in the wee small hours of the morning.
Barbecue selections run a little deeper than posted currently on the online menu, featuring St Louis cut pork ribs, a 16-ounce "Big Ass" BBQ beef rib, smoked chicken, a brisket sandwich and a pulled pork sandwich. There's also a chicken fried steak, a NY strip and a few different burgers, including a Juicy Lucy.
Appetizers also vary drastically from the currently posted menu, starting things off with loaded nachos, loaded fries, brisket tacos, a few different sliders, two different sliders and nine different varieties of wings.
I hit Nicky's with my young bride for a late weekday lunch, finding the place empty throughout the visit.
We decided to forego the appetizer selections and start right in on the entrees.
Pulled pork sandwich: Not knowing what to expect, and having seen the room that seems more geared to music and beer influenced hijinks than barbecue, I expected the worst. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when the arriving pulled pork sandwich ($9 with fries) sported a shiny well crafted brioche-like bun and purple cabbage slaw between the two, along with a thick-sweet-tangy sauce. Splitting the sandwich in two revealed gray meat, minimal bark and no smoky aroma in the cross section. Here's the deal: overall flavor (including the roll, sauce and slaw) was good, but the pork itself was lackluster (and lackflavor, lackmoisture, lackbark and lacksmoke). Hand-cut, skin-on fries were superb.
Ribs: A half rack ($15 with two sides) had a candy red coating and moderate
bark. They were uncut, so I flipped the rack over to do the honors and
noticed how steamy and rubbery it looked and how stiff it felt. I
struggled with the butter knife to saw nd pry one bone free. The bad news:
more gray meat. The good news: the rib was much more moist than it
looked. Tenderness was as expected, posing a bit of a challenge to get
the meat off the bone. Overall flavor was decent, thanks mostly to the
sauce. There was again no smokiness or real rub presence.
A single sauce topping the pork and coating the ribs presented a nice blend of tangy, spicy and sweet.
Beans: A bountiful bowl of big beans brought bigger flavors that mixed sweet (but not the tired molassesy version), light heat and smoky (much smokier than either of the meats).
Onion rings: Brought out a few minutes after the rest of the meal, the puffy donut shaped rings were dark—pumpernickel dark—and overcooked to the point where the crispy batter separated from the onions and shattered upon contact. To expedite delivery—and add insult to injury—the draining step must have been skipped, because the rings came coated in an oily sludge.
Fries: Hand-cut fries supplied with the pulled pork sandwich had proper darkening, thick skins, potatoey flavor, light crispness and decent salting. Probably the highlight of the meal.
It took well over a half hour for the lunch to be served even though it was well into lunch service and there were no other customers.
The Bottom Line
Maybe we got unlucky or lunch isn't their thing. More likely, barbecue isn't the thing at Nicky's BBQ and Beer Garden.
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