A Deep Dish Disappointment at Big Nick's on the Upper West Side
2175 Broadway New York, NY 10024; map); (212) 362-9238; bignicksnyc.com
Pizza Style: Chicago Deep Dish
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Deep dish pizza made from a gritty whole wheat. Wan toppings add insult to injury.
Price: Deep dish pie $15.80 includes three toppings
Notes: Thin crust pizza also available, untested by reviewer.
It brings me no joy to write this review. I, like many New Yorkers, have fond memories of Big Nick's, the venerable Upper West Side dive. Truth be told, I haven't been in there in about 20 years, but I warmly recall eating hearty portions for not very much money whilst stuffed into Big Nick's tight booths, surrounded by a thousand handwritten signs, with the banter of the colorful cast of characters who work and eat there providing much merriment. When I discovered that they serve a Chicago-style pie I decided to make a journey back to the UWS to check it out.
Big Nick's has a fancy new sign but the interior remains the same. I sat in the same booth that I sat in on my last visit many years ago, the one on the left of the counter if you enter on the left hand doorway—the one that says Burger Joint above it. Perhaps I would have had more luck if I had entered on the Pizza Joint side of things.
The menu made no mention of the deep dish pie I was there to eat, so I asked the waiter who, after scouring his mind, acknowledged that he did have a vague memory of such a menu item, and promised to be right back. Eventually he returned with a printed delivery menu and there, on page 20 at the bottom left hand corner, was what I was after: "Chicago-style deep dish pizza, $15.80. Deep dish, sourdough crust, choose three toppings."
I ordered sausage, pepperoni, onions and peppers. "That's four items," came the stern warning. "I will have to charge you extra." I told him that was no problem.
Half an hour and a cheeseburger later (review coming to A Hamburger Today next week) the pie showed up at the table. I wasn't sure what the basil leaves were doing on top. But otherwise everything looked fine, at least initially. The crust was bronzed and when I lifted up a slice, the cheese formed lovely long, gooey strings.
Everything was certainly warm but aside from the crust there was no browning. I would have liked the pepperoni and sausage poking through the cheese surface to have been a little charred, but in retrospect, it was the least of the problems. The sausage was revolting. It was dull and oily, with little in the way of what would be described as a meaty texture. The peppers appeared to be the pre-cooked variety that sit in oil becoming soggy and losing their color. They contributed an oily/watery slick to the pie. The cheese was fine, the tomato sauce almost flavorless. A little acidity would have been welcome against the tide of oil and molten cheese.
But the worst thing about the pie was the dough. It was made of whole wheat. Need I say more? It was dense and leaden, even gritty. It lacked any semblance of lightness or airiness, something that pizza of most any ilk should strive for.
I can't imagine that any self-respecting Chicagoan would ever make a pizza with such a poor dough on purpose, but when I asked if there perhaps might have been a mistake in the kitchen, the waiter's gruff response was, "that's how it comes."
His rather poor attitude does make this review easier to write, as does the cost of the pie, which approached $20. But I still feel a bit sad having to file such a negative appraisal of a place that I want so much to love as I once did.