The Rehoboth Foodie still holds fond memories of those cavernous Ocean City restaurants of the late ’60s and ’70s when he was bangin’ out rock ‘n’ roll 7 nights a week at Jack & June Fisher’s long-gone Hideaway Lounge on the Boardwalk at 22nd St. Places like the (old) Bonfire, the (old) Embers, Phillips (the one at 21st St.), even the relentlessly Italian Mario’s, always had long in-season waits, and were always the high point of the day for an even younger Foodlet-To-Be, skinny, sunburned and fidgeting in the back seat of his parents’ Buick.
Though most of these landmarks have changed hands and/or concept and/or quality level many times since then (mostly for the worse), Nick’s Original House of Ribs (formerly Nick Idoni’s) is still reminiscent of those big complexes that were always packed with vacationers gobbling up huge portions of good ol’ American fare after a day on the beach. Nick’s is quintessentially Ocean City, Md. and has, to date, always served up good, consistent food and service.
No trip to Ocean City is complete without the ubiquitous Onion Loaf. As the Official Maryland State Appetizer (I made that up…), it is savory and crunchy when made right. (The key is keeping it in the fryer long enough for the batter in the center of the loaf to cook properly.) I’ve eaten at Nick’s many times, and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t well-prepared and delicious (your Foodie is on a hair trigger about these things). They are best sawed into thick slices and eaten hot. Though the onion loaf (or variations thereof) can be found in many rib/steak/chicken joints, Nick’s has a “signature” appetizer that is shamelessly decadent (and of course I would be familiar with it…). It is the Crab Cheese Toast, and it’s just what it sounds like: hot, buttery, yeasty bread, toasted and covered in melted cheese and jumbo lump crab meat. Served up with horseradish sauce, even The Foodie feels a twinge of guilt (or is that the twinge his arteries closing?) when he orders a second one. Other appetizers with which I have been up-close-and-personal include the Rib Teaser (a few nice Baby Back bones as a preview of coming attractions), and Nick’s Garden Bowl (dangerously healthy, but then you did have that cheese toast).
The star of the entree show, hands down, is the BBQ Ribs and Chicken Combo. The Baby Back Ribs are quite good alone (with that all-important seared crust that results from the Maillard reaction between the proteins/sugars in the meat and high heat). The chicken is also good alone. What to do, you might ask? GET BOTH of course. For lovers of beef, a similar effect can be achieved by ordering the Steak and Ribs Combo (ribs accompanied by a polite 9 oz. New York strip). Over the years, I have been witness to the summary devouring of the other Combos, including the Steak and Shrimp and the Steak and Chicken. Of course, full racks of ribs and whole (half) chickens are on the menu for those who are more sure of themselves.
Nick’s has an attractive bar with about 290 TVs, each tuned to one sports event or another. Food-wise, every time I go in there, I am poised to find something wrong, but so far they’ve stepped up to the plate every time. Nick’s Original House of Ribs is brightly lit and takes up almost the whole block between 144th and 145th Sts. on the east side of Coastal Highway (just barely south of the DE line). If you find yourself hiking the culinary nooks and crannies of the southern reaches (and you’re feeling carnivorous), I believe you will not be disappointed with Nick’s. They’re open all year, but always call to make sure they are open (or for carry-out): (410) 250-1984. Click here for a list of some of Nick’s featured entrees. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate +.