words and photos by Tyron Hoisten
I’ve heard such high praise for Nicole’s Restaurant and their flavorful, low-priced comfort food. The establishment came up in conversation one evening after choir rehearsal, which prompted Sister Jackson, the choir director, to bolt up with the charisma of a southern preacher and make her feelings known. “Honey, Nicole’s is so good, it’s like you’re licking the floors of heaven! And they’re cheap too!”
Sister Jackson’s bold proclamation was enough to make me set a date to dine at this heavenly establishment. And I must say, although Sister Jackson’s review was a bit far fetched, it wasn’t too far off.
I went on a Thursday during lunch hour. The first thing I surveyed when I walked in was the atmosphere. As far as I’m concerned, the atmosphere is as important as the food when it comes to a dining experience. If the atmosphere isn’t right, I don’t dine. One time, I went into a diner that was dank with wires hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t even make it three steps in—but that’s partly because my shoe got stuck on a strange sticky spot in the carpet. The place was hazardous. I was very happy to see that the atmosphere at Nicole’s Restaurant was much better. It’s sleek and modern with tall windows making the space bright and inviting. It was clean too—no sticky spots.
The line was moderately long, but the staff, who appeared to work together like a well-oiled machine, kept it moving swiftly. When I finally got to the front, the waitress greeted me and took my order. I asked her to just give me the best thing on the menu. I let her choose. I’m not picky and I have no allergies, which means anything edible will do.
She thought for a moment, punched the order into the computer, then directed me to a table with an assurance that the wait wouldn’t be long. She was efficient and very capable of handling the lunch hour rush, but, I realized after sitting at my table complete with hot and BBQ sauce, she never smiled. I didn’t mind though, because I don’t trust anyone who smiles after standing for eight hours smelling of fried chicken. Her serious demeanor let me know that she was in the zone and focused on getting the job done right—which, in my opinion, she did. In addition to top notch service, she never let my glass get less than half full.
As I waited, Nicole herself came to greet the patrons. “Hey, Nicole,”a few of them said with their mouths full. They must’ve been regulars.
Nicole is younger than you might expect, but she exudes the warmth and disarming nature of someone more seasoned. She made her way to my table with a complimentary glass of the restaurant’s signature beverage, Blue Magic. Sounds like something illegal, right? Really it’s just a Kool-Aide concoction.
Nicole’s welcoming presence makes you feel as though you’re at a relative’s home rather than a restaurant. It’s easy to see that much of the restaurant’s appeal is wrapped up in her personality.
After about 10 minutes, the food was on the table in front me, sizzling hot. I had a cheesy turkey burger, with a side of fries and macaroni & cheese—and a hunk of pound cake for dessert. The half pound turkey burger was topped with sautéed onions, grilled peppers and American cheese. I picked it up. I licked my lips. I steadied myself in my chair. And then opened up like a yawning lion to take the highly anticipated first bite.
After a few chews, I smiled. My tastebuds were pleased. The freshness was evident in every bite and it was seasoned to perfection—so much so that I quickly got over my annoyance at the two slices of cheese not being seamlessly melted together.
The colossal fries were everything you’d hope for: not too greasy, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.
The macaroni belongs in a lane all by itself. The first bite took my heart straight back home to the simpler days of Great Grandma’s soulful cooking.
And who doesn’t love a good sugary, diabetes-inducing hunk of pound cake? The buttery goodness tasted like it may have derived from a Paula Dean cookbook. I ate every crumb and got another piece to go.
After conquering everything on the table, including half the bottle of hot sauce and three Blue Magic refills, I sat back and gave that slow nod of approval. Contrary to Sister Jackson’s review, Nicole’s Restaurant isn’t quite heavenly—but it is resting on a cloud nearby. Nicole offers comforting food at comfortable prices. The portion sizes aren’t bad either.
I wobbled out to my car, swung open the door, but just before ducking in, I looked over my shoulder at the restaurant’s bright sign and said, in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”
Nicole’s Restaurant, 1477 South Hawkins Avenue, 330-869-0959
Tyron Hoisten is a writer, an actor, a minister—in short, he is many things, but most notably, he’s bald.