Little slice of …

Find just what you want at Nick's

Maple Sausage Stuffed Jalapeños and Uptown Old Fashion, photography by Neal Bruns

Nick’s Martini & Wine Bar in East State Village is not one of those well-hidden secrets. It’s the inheritor of the good vibes left from when it was the family room of Nick and Von’s Rib Room, and the new owners are skillfully adding new good vibes of their own with a glamorous combo of craft cocktails, a well-chosen wine list and a short but strong craft beer selection plus a small-plates menu that ranges from the neighborly to the urban and edgy with consummate skill.

It hit the ground running after opening in March.

“We were really impressed with the outpouring from the local community in the 05, the 46805,” said general manager Karon Messman. “We also have people that have come from the whole community.”

They learned some key lessons when they thought they were just remodeling.

“During construction, we didn’t realize how much people walk and socialize,” she said. “We may have to find out how to get a crosswalk because we get so much back and forth traffic from State Bar and Grill.”

The final result is that the room is just plain beautiful. Opening up the wall of windows along East State Boulevard was sheer genius, both for the sparkling light it lets into the room and the neighborhoodlife it supports. East State Village is at the heart of the 05, where people do indeed walk, and Nick’s is a place where people will stop for a drink, some conversation and a bite to eat. The patio out back is pet friendly, too.

Add the Wednesday-through-Saturday live music lineup, a small but nice late night menu, the adjoining-room availability of a full dinner at The Rib Room and the fact that three Henry brothers, Chris, Matt and Kurt, are behind the room’s renaissance, and it’s a recipe for success.

It’s not the only place like it in town.

“But we found a hole in this near north corridor,” Messman said. “So many people go through here from downtown to out north, and there are not a lot of things in between and nothing really right here. There was a huge, gaping hole for something like this, something with both the ‘want to be a part of our neighborhood’ but also some edgy, fun things.”

The cocktail menu, the wine and craft beer offerings and the small plates menu all are carefully designed to do both and to welcome people at all price points, she said.

“Not that the food isn’t great, but because our focus really is the craft martinis and cocktails, we do have quite a selection of martinis,” she said. Some are old standards, harkening back to the 1920s, such as the Aviation, which beverage manager Alesia Glaza describes as a classic making a comeback, and some are newer trendy favorites like the Caipirinha Up.

The dessert martini menu has already proved popular with people coming over after dinner at The Rib Room or on their way home from dinner downtown. Messman is very proud of the monthly Martini for a Cause, which costs $10, half of which is donated to the month’s charity. Recent beneficiaries have been the Allen County SPCA and the Positive Resource Center, formerly AIDS Task Force.

Nick’s keeps it local in many ways, sourcing its menu items locally whenever possible and with community involvement. Messman is also creating some involvement. She’s looking forward to becoming a sponsor of the annual Northside Neighborhood Association block party and supplying some of the music, and she has an inspiration for a pub crawl among the neighborhood bars and restaurants. So far she has either talked with or is thinking about el Azteca, State Bar & Grill, Shady Nook, North Star and Old Crown in addition to Nick’s.

“We really want to get this pub crawl going,” she said.

And she is booking Nick’s on Sundays, when it is closed, for special events, when its kitchen will even be made available to other chefs who might want to do special dinners.

“Mix it up,” she said.


Nick’s Martini & Wine Bar’s Maple Sausage Stuffed Jalapeños
Serves 4

6-8 large fresh jalapeños
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon imitation maple flavoring
1/2 pound pepper jack cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped hickory bacon, fried until crispy
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions

Avocado-lime sauce:
1 cup buttermilk ranch dressing
1 avocado
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. De-seed jalapeños and cut in half lengthwise. Lay on sheet tray, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake jalapeños at 375 degrees F. until soft but firm (7-10 minutes). Set aside.

2. In large stock pot, brown sausage and drain fat. In large mixing bowl, combine sausage, garlic, cream cheese, pepper flakes, maple flavoring and pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well.

3. Stuff jalapeños with sausage stuffing generously. Top with thinly sliced pepper jack cheese.

4. Bake jalapeños 8-12 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.

5. For sauce, combine buttermilk ranch dressing, sriracha sauce, salt and pepper, pitted avocado and fresh lime juice in blender. Blend until smooth.

6. Garnish with avocado-lime sauce, crispy chopped bacon and scallions.

First appeared in the May 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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