by Mabel Suen
A brand-new restaurant has joined the Delmar Loop's league of lunch and dinner destinations just in time for this year's early spring, readily equipped with an outdoor patio, plenty of elegant indoor seating and a fully stocked bar. Nico (6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-0200), the younger brother (in more ways than on) to Franco in Soulard, opened late last month in the space that had been the long-time home of Brandt's. Unlike Franco, where the menu has a strong French accent, Nico offers a menu with influence from Spanish, Italian and Moroccan cuisine, as well as French.
Owner Tom Schmidt grew up down the street and says that the new space feels like home. With a dozen family members residing within a half mile of his new restaurant and a portrait of the eponymous Nico (like the namesake of Franco, one of Schmidt's nephews) hung near the entrance, Schmidt keeps his businesses in the family both literally and metaphorically.
"These regions are delineated by made-up borders, but they share a heritage," says Schmidt. "There's a lot of commonality in the food -- fine olive oils, bright herbs and a focus on ingredients like good peppers and garlic. There's a good balance of acidity in any comforting and refined rustic food."
With these ideals in mind, Schmidt and Franco executive chef Chris Williams worked to assemble the seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired menu. Starters include salt-cod croquettes with aioli ($7), cheese and charcuterie plates, pickled veggies and more. Nico also offers salads ($7-$9), sandwiches ($9-12), desserts ($5-8) and entrées including beef daube ($21), chicken paillard ($17) and handmade pasta dishes such as orecchiette ($15) and pappardelle ($17) with ragu Napolitano-pancetta, pork shoulder, pork belly and tomato sauce.
"I think what we're doing is timeless, simple, classic and just real, and that's what I like about it. It's not a trend. It's just as exciting today as it will be twenty years from now," says Schmidt.
To that effect, Schmidt also hopes to offer fresh Italian ice made with a classic cast-iron shaver from a kiosk on the sidewalk sometime soon. Nico's current operating hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Stayed tuned for a brunch menu and hours with updates on Nico's website.