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Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Nick & Jimmy's Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Nick & Jimmy's Bar & Grill on Pan American Frontage Road

Legendary American chef, author and television personality Julia Child was often exasperated with what she perceived as American’s propensity for culinary laziness, once commenting that “the trend in the U.S.A. was toward speed and the elimination of work.”   “Americans,” she noted, equated as “gourmet” such “horrible glop” as “TV dinners, frozen vegetables, canned mushrooms, fish sticks, Jell-O salads, marshmallows and spray-can whipped cream.

Julia Child obviously didn’t know Dave Hurayt, a fellow gastronome who’s shared some wonderful recipes with me.  While Dave may not have spent two years and nearly 300 pounds of flour attempting to bake the perfect loaf of French bread as Julia Child once did, he experiments painstakingly with the recipes he creates, laboring assiduously until those recipes achieve his high standards of perfection.  Perfection can sometimes be painful as he found out while experimenting with a recipe utilizing burnt bourbon.  Much like a mad scientist adding a catalytic chemical to a burning beaker, the results were dramatic.  He blew the glass right out of his new KitchenAid oven.

A basket of bread at Nick & Jimmy's

A basket of bread at Nick & Jimmy's

When a true kitchen warrior and gourmet such as Dave eschews his culinary domain and eats at one restaurant for seven out of nine consecutive weeks, that restaurant has got to be special.  A restaurant capable of besotting his sophisticated palate has got to offer extraordinary quality and quality.  Like me, Dave is not a monogamous gastronome when it comes to restaurants.  When he does go out to eat, he typically will visit a variety of restaurants, not a select few like the truly culinarily lazy Americans to which Julia Child referred.

The restaurant which captured Dave’s heart and taste buds is Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on restaurant row off the Pan American Highway on the west side of I-25.  Nick & Jimmy’s has been wowing dining patrons since it launched in September, 2009 which means that only a few weeks have elapsed without a visit from Dave.  One of the high wow factors is the restaurant’s redesign which might more appropriately be called a metamorphosis because Nick & Jimmy’s occupies what was once Johnny Carino’s, a middling quality Italian chain.

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

Preparing our flaming Kaseri cheese appetizer

The estimate as to what the transmogrification cost ranges from one-million to two-million dollars, either amount impressive.  The restaurant is an oasis of elegance in a restaurant row landscape dominated by chains.  The walls are festooned in muted earth tone colors that seem to beckon hungry diners.  Overhead, large wooden beams painted brown seem to signify strength and solidity.  As you walk in, you have the option of dining in a sprawling dining room in which tables are in fairly close proximity to one another or in a more casual room in which a well-provisioned bar holds prominence.  The two rooms are separated by smoked glass accented half walls.

A semi-exhibition kitchen is partially obfuscated from diners by the smoked glass accents.  It’s a nice touch that gives you a hint of the bustling activity at a busy kitchen without being too distracting.  As luxurious as the setting is, not all the improvements are readily apparent.  One thing diners can’t see, but which is most definitely a hallmark of the restaurant is the 1400-degree broiler reputed to sear in all the juices and flavor.

Dolmades Avgolomono

The menu is inventive and eclectic, offering a smattering of steak and seafood entrees as well as Greek, Italian and American inspired cuisine.  What you won’t see is a perfunctory tribute to the Land of Enchantment’s red and green chile, although the soup of the day might just turn out to be posole.  More than half the entrees on the lunch menu are also available for dinner, albeit dinner is when carnivores should visit.  That’s when the menu includes steak, chops and chicken entrees the likes of which every great steakhouse offers, but few prepare exceptionally well.

Most entrees are served with your choice of soup or salad, seasonal vegetables and one of the following: oven-roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, old-fashioned mashed potatoes or au gratin potatoes.  Unlike some of their peers in the upscale casual market, Nick & Jimmy’s have a price point to which more patrons will relate and no a la carte offerings.  Portions are generous so you shouldn’t walk out hungry.

Seafood Soup

As you peruse the menu, a basket of bread will be brought to your table and your attendant will prepare a dish of olive oil and seasonings in which to immerse the bread (which just happens to be some of the very best bread in town).  The bread is courtesy of Fano’s Bakery, a local institution.  It encapsulates all that is wonderful about the staff of life–a hard-crust surrounding a soft, yeasty bread.  Also served in the bread basket are small wedges of the restaurant’s pizza bread which are infiltrated with parmesan cheese and chili flakes.

All but three of Nick & Jimmy’s ten appetizer options are succulent selections from the sea: shrimp cocktail, crab cake, Parmesan prawns, baked crab and artichoke heart dip, sesame seared Ahi tuna, fried calamari, shrimp scampi and pan-seared scallops (raved about by Dave).  The sole landlubbers are hummus served with toasted pita wedges and Saganaki, flaming Kasseri cheese, also served with toasted pita wedges.

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy's

Beef and barley soup at Nick & Jimmy's

The Saganaki is almost as much fun to see prepared tableside as it is to eat it.  Alit courtesy of a common lighter, the flames ascend toward the heavens, leaving blue and orange plume trails in their aromatic wake.  Your well-trained attendant turns the cheese over with but a steak knife, manipulating the flames so they lick the cheese, imparting high heat through and through and with an evenness that ensures every bit of the cheese is flame-kissed.

In Greece, Kasseri cheese is made from sheep’s milk while its American counterpart is made with cow’s milk.  Nick & Jimmy’s Kasseri is made from an amalgam of goat milk and cow’s milk.  Its flavor is of medium sharpness with a salty prominence.  It’s not meant to be spread on the pita wedges so much as it’s intended to be placed atop the pita, akin to a crown of cheesy deliciousness.

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Roasted Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley

Dolmades (grape leaves rolled around rice, ground beef and herbs) Avgolomono (an egg and lemon sauce) is another great Greek starter.  If you’ve ever lamented the fact that most dolmades in the Duke City come from a can, you’ll appreciate these housemade gems which, also unlike at most other Albuquerque restaurants, are served warm.  The herbaceous aroma and flavor of the ground beef and rice combination coupled with the tangy richness of the Avgolomono sauce make these (five to an order) stubby cigar-shaped beauties some of the very best in the city.

The soup of the day rotates frequently and as noted previously, is served complementarily with many of the restaurant’s entrees.  Separately, soup is available for five dollars a bowl.  Alternatively, the menu offers five salads: Caprese Salad, Iceberg Wedge, Dinner Salad, Greek Salad and a Caesar Salad with your choice of dressing: Bleu cheese, Ranch, Greek, Caesar, Thousand Island or Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Gyros with potatoes au gratin

Gyro Sandwich with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, served with pita bread

Legendary French chef and restauranteur Auguste Escoffier once said “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”  Not all soups warrant such lavish praise, but some soups seem to have been the inspiration for Escoffier’s sage words.  Nick & Jimmy’s Beef Barley Soup is one of these.

The beef and barley soup is rich, hearty and tasty, replete with a thick, savory beef stock ameliorated by a generous amount of tender beef.  It is served piping hot with steam wafting upwards to tease and tantalize your olfactory senses.  This soup exemplifies all that people equate with the comforting and nurturance of a truly good soup.  It is a soup Nick & Jimmy’s should consider for the daily menu–or at least as a seasonal offering available in cold weather.  The other soup offered during our inaugural visit was posole, but its flavor profile was tarnished with cumin which I disdain on New Mexican food.

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

Greek Style Roasted Chicken with Rice Pilaf and a Vegetable Medley

Another soul-warming soup, one which might make you long for a cold day, is the seafood soup, showcasing calamari, squid, crab, fish and shrimp in a heavily-seasoned broth with potatoes.  Heavily seasoned in this case doesn’t mean the seafood flavor is obfuscated in any way.  Especially delightful are the calamari ringlets which are chewy and delicious.  This is wholly unlike most chowder-like seafood soups which are thick and seem to beckon for oyster crackers.  The only things this soup cries out for are a large spoon and a second helping.

The lunch and dinner menus both include eight Italian inspired pasta dishes as well as four wood-oven fired pizzas.  For lunch you can also order a hamburger with green chile, a traditional gyro sandwich or a chicken gyro sandwich, all served with French fries and a house salad served with your choice of dressing.

Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatonii in cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers

The lunch menu lists five items on the steaks, chops and chicken section, a number which doubles on the dinner menu.  You might be surprised to find such upscale meat entrees as oven braised lamb shank and spiced, braised short ribs on the lunch menu.  Don’t hesitate to order either.

The spiced, braised short ribs come six to an order.  Braised slowly and marinated for hours, they are fall-off-the-bone tender and taste like very good, very expensive Irish pot roast seasoned very well though the “spiced” adjective doesn’t appear to equate to piquant.  Coupled with roasted potatoes, this entree reminded me very much of the wonderful comfort meals we’ve had in Irish restaurants.  The sole let-down in our inaugural visit was the vegetable medley, an al-dente and under-seasoned offering of carrots, zucchini and red onions.  Compared to the spectacular vegetables at Chez Bob, these were of pedestrian quality.

Another entree at which Nick & Jimmy’s excels is the roasted spring chicken which is slow-roasted with fresh herbs, prominent among which are garlic and oregano.  The chicken is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all moist and thoroughly delicious.  Easily large enough to share, you probably will want this chicken all to yourself.  An excellent complement to the chicken is the buttery and rich rice pilaf, each grain of which is imbued with flavor.

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy's

Pineapple Upsidedown Cake at Nick & Jimmy's

If Greek entrees are what appeal most to you from the menu, but you also want a sandwich, Nick & Jimmy’s offers a gyro sandwich with tomatoes, onion, tzatziki sauce and an amalgam of beef and lamb nestled in a thick, warm pita.  Though a good sandwich, this one isn’t overstuffed with beef and lamb the way I enjoy my gyros. Thankfully it is very moist and very well-seasoned, a perfect foil for the thicker than usual tzatziki sauce.

Dave Hurayt often extols the excellence of Nick & Jimmy’s pasta dishes.  No longer exclusively the domain of Italian restaurants, pasta dishes are often better prepared in fine-dining  eclectic establishments than they are in their more well-practiced Italian brethren.  That’s certainly the case with the Beef Tenderloin Tip Rigatoni, a swimming pool-sized bowl brimming with rigatoni in a cayenne cream sauce with wild mushrooms and red peppers studded with beef tenderloin.  The cayenne cream sauce is redolent with a peppery piquancy that New Mexicans will love.  The pasta is perfectly prepared at a shade beyond al dente while the beef tenderloin, at medium-rare, is tender and succulent, a real treat.

Baklava Sundae

The dessert menu includes such seemingly de rigueur standards as creme brulee and bread pudding.  It also showcases a pineapple upsidedown cake, not a very common dessert offering in New Mexico restaurants.  This is wholly unlike other pineapple upsidedown cakes I’ve ever seen as it’s not sliced from a large sheet cake.  These are individually portioned cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and surrounded by rich whipped cream and fresh berries.  The cake is moist and thoroughly delicious, not too sweet as some of its ilk are apt to be.

Another Greek-inspired dessert favorite is the Baklava Sundae, a sundae glass in which two mounds of Blue Bunny’s vanilla ice cream are topped with a triangle of moist and rich baklava replete with sweet honey.  The baklava sweetens the ice cream all the more, forming a decadent marriage sure to appease the most discerning of dessert aficionados.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill is owned by Albuquerque’s dynamic partnership duo of Nick Kapnison and Jimmy Daskalos.  The former is a veteran restaurant impresario, having owned Yanni’s for more than a decade.

Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill
5021 S Pan American Freeway,  N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 344-9169
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 30 October 2010
1st VISIT: 14 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET:   Pineapple Upsidedown Cake, Spicy Beef Short Ribs, Greek Style Roasted Chicken, Saganaki, Gyros Sandwich, Baklava Sundae, Dolmades Avgolomono, Beef Tenderloin Tip Ravioli, Seafood Soup

Nick & Jimmy's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

  • joe says:

    Well, we camp out there frequently at this point. Their menu of house specials rotates often enough that every week there is something different offered. It is quiet, comfortable, and the food ranges from good to exceptional. We have never had a bad experience there. I wish I could say that for other places.

    Thankfully, every restaurant we’ve visited has had something special to offer, and in most cases we can appreciate the uniqueness. Unfortunately, I have to think back at Cappo’s hideaway, where we were the only lunch patrons, and the food tasted like chef boyardee heated in a microwave. I remember (now years ago) being honored that they turned on the scratchy loud speaker with a local readio station just for us.

    Anyway, that beef barley soup (they you featured here) was a warm and welcome sensation given the cloudy and cold, bleak day of last Saturday, when we ate there.

    Good review. We agree completely. Thanks.

    November 20, 2009 at 7:54 PM
  • scott says:

    If I didn’t have a gift voucher for most of the cost of my meal I would have been really disappointed. Toughest prawns I have ever encountered. Like leather. Couscous swimming in butter, white sauce not very tasty. Not at all impressed. Too bad, I like the menu. If I ever go back I will play it safe and get a steak.

    January 12, 2010 at 9:18 PM
  • Barbara says:

    Husband and I dined there last night, what a nice meal! He had the rib eye and was not disappointed. I had a taste and it was well flavored from the grill, and the rice pilaf was tasty as well. I had the lamb shank which was delicious, and we had creme brulee and coconut cream pie. This goes on our date night rotation now.

    March 31, 2010 at 1:22 PM
  • Bruce says:

    A group from work chose this place for a luncheon today. I ordered the Baked Greek Chicken. This had to be one of the dryest – most tasteless chicken entrees I have ever eaten. Definitely overpriced as a lunch special at $10.95.

    Unfortunately first impressions for me are the ones that last. I can’t see myself recommending or coming back to this restaurant until enough time passes that I have forgotton why I don’t dine there more often.

    Next time I have a craving for Greek chicken – I will stick with the excellent dish served at the Monte Carlo steak house.

    September 1, 2010 at 1:54 PM
  • Pete Zaitcev says:

    N&J may be the only place in #abq where the kitchen matches the pretentse. It’s like Artichoke cafe’s quality, but with a decently wide menu for various tastes. And the prices are not that ridiculous really, I mean quality costs money naturally. If you can’t afford it, go there once a year. I really like having N&J as an option.

    October 31, 2010 at 3:36 AM
  • Ken says:

    I was very apprehensive about dining here after reading some of the reviews. A friend chose to have her birthday dinner here so we went. There were certainly a couple of negatives, mostly the size (numer of items) and cheesy “plastic” cover on the menu but all in all it was a very nice experience.

    The service was terrific. Our waitress could not have done anything more than she did to make our visit special. From the moment we sat down, fresh, warm bread arrived. Wine and cocktails followed. Great suggestions to guide our ordering and finally the food. While I personally believe their menu is too large to do it all well, everything we had was terrific. No complaints at all. We tried to sample as many different ethnic options to see if they’d fail on some front. As surprising as it may be, they didn’t. The Greek, Mexican, pasta, fish, meats and desserts were all great.

    So I have to say, since I was not looking forward to our visit, EVERYTHING was great. How special it was to go with low expectations and a sense that we would be disappointed with our visit and walk away happy to admit we were completely wrong!!

    Give a try, I think they are trying very hard and it is working! We certainly visit again.

    November 7, 2010 at 1:43 PM
  • lobo59 says:

    After reading Gil’s enticing review, I decided to take my wife and mother to Nick & Jimmy’s for lunch. It was a good decision. We thought it was a little pricey, but we liked the food and ambience and our server was both prompt and helpful.

    The Green Chile Chicken Lasagna was quite good, though the serving was on the small side and it was quite “mushroomy.” I agree with Gil that the gyro sandwich was good, but not great. I am not a fan of their tzatziki, but the meat was flavorful and pita was warm and fresh.

    The star of the lunch, however, was the Green Chile Meatloaf. All three of us thought it bordered on spectacular. It was moist and full of delicious, if unidentifiable, flavors. It was ordered without gravy, which turned out to be a good decision as the complex flavors could be best appreciated. After tasting the meatloaf, I may find it hard to try anything else (except the baklava sundae).

    We all enjoyed our first Nick & Jimmy’s meal, and we will no doubt return; but we also agreed that at this point, Yanni’s remains our favorite Albuquerque Mediterranean restauant.

    November 13, 2010 at 6:36 AM
  • Will4Dill says:

    Cheese food for Albuquerque’s cheeseballs.

    November 21, 2010 at 4:08 PM
  • Pete Zaitcev says:

    I would like to amend my previous comment in that my opinion about N&J has improved after I found that they do not close for a mid-day break just when I get hungry (like about every other place in ABQ), and their lunch menu has very reasonable prices. Sure, their Midterranean stuff is as expensive as ever, but it’s not the whole story.

    December 13, 2010 at 6:45 AM
  • Adam says:

    Don’t play it safe and get the steak because if you get the 1 pound New york strip and order it medium well apperantlly it takes a long time to cook your waiting for it while other patrons around you are receiving there steaks and don’t expect any A1 sauce they only have 1 bottle. Our whole dinning exprience started out great and ended miserabley once the steak came out the only thing hot on the plate was the steak all the rest of the food was cold they made all the other food before the steak was even close to being done. The managers job was to go get the recipet and prove that me the customer was wrong on when I ordered the steak. and then when I was walking out the stupid manager said “The least I can do is offer you some butter mints and stuck the bowl of FREE MINTS IN MY FACE. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME AND THE LAST TIME I GO TO JIMMYS THANK YOU DAVID (waiter) AND THANK YOU MANGER/ HOSTESS FROM OFFER OF FREE MINTS IDIOT

    February 14, 2011 at 9:47 PM
  • Adam says:

    I did mean Nick and Jimmys not just jimmys

    February 14, 2011 at 10:11 PM
  • Nate D says:

    Adam,
    While your experience doesn’t sound great…I might point out that if you want medium well steaks with A1 sauce…you might want to try Sizzler or Golden Corral.

    February 14, 2011 at 10:43 PM
  • Barbara says:

    Who eats a pound of steak?

    February 15, 2011 at 12:45 PM
  • Adam says:

    well you no what nate d i thought i would try nick and jimmys the steak was on there menu it was a new york strip and they did ask what kind of sauce i wanted there baked goat cheese appetizer was good cant get that at sizzler or golden corral the food wasnt the point of my comment the crappy service and crappy management was the point of my comment but all you see is some one wanting a steak with A1 sauce like i am some kind of hill billy i really wanted good service for the price the service shouldnt be village inn standards where servers dont give a crap think i am done now wont leave anymore comments

    February 15, 2011 at 11:51 PM
  • Foodie Star says:

    Adam,

    Please keep writing comments! They are enjoyed and appreciated.

    PS- Your writing style is unique. It reminds me of Suzie Queue’s. Are you related?

    February 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM
  • Nate D says:

    Adam,
    I was just giving you a hard time. I generally find if I’m wanting A1 sauce, the steak isn’t very good….no need to stop posting comments.
    Nate

    February 16, 2011 at 4:57 PM
  • Adam says:

    ok fine I’ll keep posting comments sorry I don’t use punctuation and what not just remember to take a deep breath before you read my comments cause its just one big run on sentence. so is yannis better then nick and jimmys they’ve been around longer than nick and jimmys I here they are good scared to try after nick and jimmy exprience and I am not a good parralell parker think i spelled it right…..ok now breathe

    February 17, 2011 at 6:15 PM
  • rpl says:

    Adam is entitled to prefer his steak however he wants, and the restaurant should try to please him. They are taking his money. I agree that Nick and Jimmy’s is not always a customer focused restaurant. Their menu is very long but not every choice is good. Yanni’s is far preferable to me and has a free parking lot in back, but I don’t know if they always have beef steak on the menu – it is more of a Greek restaurant. They do Lamb very well at Yanni’s. Nick and Jimmy’s tries too hard to emulate the neighbor restaurants on chain restaurant row. I have experienced poor service and bad food there, and doubt that I will go back. If I wanted the chain restaurant experience, I would patronize chain restaurants more.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:24 PM
  • Jackie says:

    Not that impressed with my dinner at Nick and Jimmy’s. Beware of the Greek roasted potatoes- very salty. Manager said that that’s the way the are prepared. Too bad for the customers. Dinner prices are a bit expensive. Probably won’t return to eat there.
    Posted by Nutritionist.

    November 20, 2011 at 8:34 PM
  • Julia says:

    The steak and enchilada plate (with green) never disappoints. I’ve had it several times at both lunch and dinner occasions, and it’s always been great. The plated side dish of beans is a bit too saucy for my taste, but that’s a minor point.

    In general, my dining companions who have ordered steak have had good experiences, as have those who have ordered some of the Greek vegetarian offerings. A companion’s experience with an add-on of lobster tails was excellent.

    However, another companion’s experience with the butterflied fried shrimp was definitely sub-par. The shrimp were overfried, and a copious amount of lemon juice was applied to them in the kitchen, so by the time the plate reached the table, the breading was thoroughly soggy with lemon while the shrimp themselves were tough; they tasted of lemony grease, rather than of fresh shrimp. This is unfortunate, because their seafood is shipped in fresh every day, and the poor preparation seems a waste of good seafood.

    Desserts were good, not the best in town, but certainly as good as most restaurants offer.

    My biggest concern with N&J’s is the uneven quality of the service. Either the waiters are inexperienced or they’ve never been trained to “serve”; obvious needs like missing silverware or empty beverage glasses go unnoticed even after requests from diners, or the waitstaff is more interested in gossiping with each other than in watching their tables. If you get one of the experienced waiters, you’re in for a treat. If you get one of those who are just putting in time on a timecard, be prepared to coach them through the process! :-)

    November 22, 2011 at 7:01 AM

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