On a busy Saturday night, newly opened Nick’s Place in Hampton Falls is a bit like the family dinners portrayed in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
The controlled chaos in the kitchen was fun to watch, with staff members in T-shirts captioned “Let’s Go” rushing about to fill in-person and online orders.
The restaurant along Route 1 opened in early October. Its menu is headlined “pizzeria, roast beef, seafood,” the classic trifecta of North Shore specialties, and this family-run chain hails from south of the border.
Hampton Falls is its second New Hampshire location; the other is in Raymond on Route 27.
Constantine “Costa” Alexandrou is holding down the fort in Hampton Falls. His father opened the first Nick’s (there are 10) in 1986 in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
Food scientist Kelsey Tenney, writing for Edible Boston magazine in May 2019, noted that Kelly’s in Revere is thought to have invented the roast beef sandwich in 1951, when a whole roast beef left over from a canceled wedding was sliced thinly and served on plain bread.
“It was a hit,” Tenney writes. “And since that fateful day, myriad varieties have popped up, adding cheese, sauce, pickles and more to the mix, each sandwich ‘combo’ lending completely different flavors and textures.”
The “three way” — mayonnaise, American cheese and Virginia-based James River barbecue sauce — is so popular that it holds “a special place in most hearts,” according to Tenney.
In fact, under the menu heading “Northshore Roast Beef” Nick’s Place highlights the words, “Have it 3 Way.”
Who am I to argue with the experts?
The super roast beef ($12.25 for the 3 Way) on an onion roll required every one of the napkins our server delivered with the meal.
The juicy, oversized sandwich was cut in half, so I was able to grasp it and sink my teeth into the tender, rare roast beef, creamy cheese and mix of BBQ sauce (James River, of course) and mayonnaise.
It’s hard to believe, but in 40 years of living in New Hampshire, I have never had a North Shore roast beef. Maybe it was the Arby’s with horseradish sauce I ate as a teen at a mall. I just didn’t see what the fuss was about.
Oh, how wrong I was.
By the second bite, it came to me — roast beef is to this area what pork BBQ is to the South, where I grew up.
People are passionate about their roast beef, and clash over the condiments — the 3 Way versus horseradish, pickles, onions, shredded lettuce or tomato.
Then there’s the fight about the best bun — seeded roll or buttered, grilled onion roll.
The 3 Way on an onion roll is mighty fine, but it would be fun to experiment.
My dining partner is a fried clam-strip guy, so he ordered them on a plate with onion rings and cole slaw ($16.50).
He had already asked to sample the tartar sauce and was taken aback when presented with a container labeled with the Nick’s Place logo. He peeled off the foil tab and was pleasantly surprised by the creamy contents.
During the short wait for our food, we selected bottled water from the drink cooler (soda, beer and wine are also available), watched a little college football and surveyed the huge menu. It’s a two-sided four-fold menu and includes everything from hot and cold subs, club sandwiches, omelet subs (?!), tacos, pasta dinners, shish kabob, baby back ribs, grilled chicken, steak tips, chowder, salads, kids’ meals and, of course, seafood and pizza.
“That’s the largest takeout pizza I’ve ever seen,” my dining companion said as a rectangular “party tray” pepperoni pizza came out of the oven and was picked up at the counter.
There’s also a Roast Beef 3 Way pizza on the menu ($21.99 for the large), as well as 19 other specialty pizza choices that include mac and cheese, shrimp scampi, buffalo finger, vegetarian, chicken Parm, meat lovers and mashed potato with bacon.
But let’s get back to the seafood.
“Classic clam strips,” my fellow diner said. “And the cole slaw is excellent, rough-cut and rustic.”
The thick onion rings were not homemade (we asked) but they checked the boxes of crunchy and savory.
The portion was large, so we took clams home to heat up later.
On the way out, we ordered two portions of baklava ($4.25), one of which I am washing down with morning coffee as I write this.
It’s a pretty good way to start the day.