There's something comforting about having a casual bar and grill near home. For those nights when cooking seems too tedious, yet travelling to a hot spot requires too much effort, only the local neighborhood grill will do. Fortunately for the folks on Cincinnati's West side, the local bar and grill happens to be Nick & Tom's in Bridgetown, a casual, comfortable spot where families gather for relaxed meals that are a leap above pub grub and equally satisfying.
The place springs up out of a flurry of older homes along Bridgetown Road, with its neon sign directing newcomers. The 15-year-old restaurant, owned by Nick and Tom Lambri-nides (sons of the Skyline Chili founders) is in the spot that was once the Alpine Inn, a popular West side gathering place and reception hall. Inside, the restaurant has a roomy tavern feel, with dark wood, shades of green and plenty of cozy booths in the dining area, and a few tall four-top tables in the bar. Most evenings, you'll find both areas bustling with drinkers and diners.
For a neighborhood place, the service is well above par. For most visits, we've been greeted by a smiling hostess and a cheerful server, luxuries I've missed at the more popular spots in town. Polite busboys, who humbly ask permission before removing plates, also quickly retrieve drink refills when the servers are hustling out other orders.
We stopped in for a lazy Sunday supper on our most recent visit, and agreed to wait 10 minutes for a table. We found it easy to pass the time atop two stools in the bar with a couple Hudy Delights, NFL recaps on TV and banter about who would order what from the extensive menu.
Appetizers are familiar: Stuffed Mushrooms ($5.15), Spinach Artichoke Dip ($6.75), Potato Skins ($5.45) and Fried Mozzarella ($5.35). The stand-out is the Spicy Chicken Nachos ($7.25), a heaping plate of corn chips covered with Nick and Tom's slow-cooked spicy chicken (which has a hint of familiar chili seasonings), tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, olives and cheese with salsa and sour cream on the side. One order should easily serve four as a starter; the two of us spoiled our meals by devouring the whole plate.
Homemade soups also are a house favorite. The Black Bean ($2.75) is one of our favorites, mildly spicy with diced red onion and dollop of sour cream on top. The French Onion ($3.70) was piping hot, but a little bland on the night we tried it. Baked Potato soup ($2.75) is rich and creamy, loaded with scallions, bacon bits and shredded cheese. Warmed rolls add to the carb count and help make a light meal out of each of the soups.
Pub-grub style sandwiches include a half-pound All-American Burger ($5.65) or Turkey Burger ($5.65), Grilled Ranch Chicken ($6.76), Prime Rib Sandwich ($8.95) and a broiled or deep fried Cod ($6.45) — plus a side of fries, cole slaw, onion straws, black beans and rice or homemade mac and cheese for $1.25 more. During the lunch hour, the list also includes a Reuben ($5.65) and half-sandwich and soup combo ($5.95).
Main course salads are nothing short of huge. My Blackened Chicken Veggie Salad ($9.95) had to be an entire head of iceberg lettuce. However, the challenge of breaking through the broccoli and cauliflower florets and shredded cheese made it tough to even get to the greens — not that I'm complaining. This is a good one to split (especially after a plate of nachos and a cup of soup). Nick and Tom's sinful homemade Ranch-style salad dressing negates any healthy points but is worth the calories.
Chicken entrées include several stuffed or topped selections, like the hearty Chicken New Orleans ($10.45), a blackened breast topped with black bean sauce, tomato, red onions and cheese served over rice. Entrées include choices from the endless list of side dishes — veggies, baked or mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, fries or a cup of that black bean soup. Spicy Chicken Fettuccini ($9.65) includes the same, delicious, spicy chicken mixture from the nachos, served on top of a heap of pasta and topped with diced tomatoes, cheese and sour cream.
Servers push the steaks, prime rib and barbecue ribs from the Steakhouse Specials, but there are better choices for your buck on the menu. Although my husband's New York Strip ($18.50 for 12 oz.) was fair, for the price, he'd expected better. Stick with the sandwich, salad and pasta choices for better bang for your buck.
Go: 5774 Bridgetown Road, Bridgetown
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Prices: Reasonable to Moderate
Payment: Major credit cards.
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of options — from homemade soups and salads, pizzas and pastas. Also, chicken dishes, cod and turkey burgers.