Somewhere, someone at some meeting must have flicked a laser pointer at a whiteboard and declared “burgers, crepes and mini-donuts! That’s a winning concept.”
The holy trinity has arrived with Nick’s on the Bay, a new fast-casual joint on Fisherman’s Wharf, filling the space vacated by Liberty Fish. And they may be on to something.
Perhaps in that same corporate boardroom, a decision was reached to fry those mini-donuts along an equally mini conveyor belt in the front window – a bit of culinary street theater that brings foot traffic to a curious pause.
And the little guys are amusing. They come in flavors like Coco Nutty, Fruity Tooty, Chilly Willy and Turkey Lurkey. No, not Turkey Lurkey, but there is a Bodacious Berry and a S’more of What, which involves marshmallow, graham cracker and “cocoa chocolate.”
But there’s a limit to the mini-mirth. Want a half-dozen? The restaurant only allows one flavor. Push it up to a dozen and they’ll let you order two. No Chilly Willy for you!
When crisp all around, the donuts are whimsical treats – teetering on that edge between ethereal and ample, with an easy sweetness. The conveyor is not consistent, however. One or two from each bag in our sample were turned out too soon, leaving a sodden impression. And the flavors are from a shaker, not stirred. There is no burnished, molten caramel on the salted caramel version, just a laced sugar.
Kitchen staff also prepare crepes in the front window, though the routine is more of a sidekick to the donuts. Yet they are malty and neatly tucked, and the savory fried chicken crepe can still put you in a rise and shine mood – or make you wonder if a truck stop breakfast and a children’s menu collided.
The fried chicken crepe folds over scrambled eggs, grilled onion, an apparently mild cheddar cheese and a bacon with a smoky overcast so thick it dims even the sweet nip of the onion. Yet that slow, acrid haze and its careening counterpoint of salt give shades of rustic hickory and biting saline to strips of chicken – a southern drawl that suits the bird.
What stands out are Nick’s burgers. A half-pound hunk of beef takes on a beautiful bittersweet char from the grill, which holds up against the onslaught of condiments thrown at it. In the Gilroy garlic version, this includes lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion, bacon, cheese – hell, there may even be a mini-donut attached. But the garlic scales all of this, contending only with the burger to create a sandwich of hoarse, rugged, dripping opulence.
It’s enough to cause you to brush past the mini-donut show.
As for the rest of it, Nick’s order and pick-up system – cashiers shout when your order is ready – is a little inconvenient, as is the cafeteria-style pay first policy. The receipt has a line for the tip, so you have to predict whether there will be service.
Oh, and the plastic utensils may raise an eyebrow or two. After all, what’s the point of banning plastic straws?
NICK’S ON THE BAY, 43 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 7:30am-10pm daily. 288-6218, nicksonthebay.com