Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: Que aproveche!
Restaurant: Sweet Nick’s Caribbean
Address: 741 Howard St., Evanston, Il
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m
Getting there: About a 10-minute walk west from Howard.
Evanston and Rogers Park are perhaps the two biggest ethnic-cuisine powerhouses of the northern suburbs, so it makes sense that the border between them would generate some interesting places to eat. Smack in the middle of that culinary DMZ is Sweet Nick’s, a venue for authentic Afro-Caribbean and Haitian specialties. Somewhat similar in setup to Taste of Peru, the last place we visited in Rogers Park, we left Sweet Nick’s with full stomachs and mixed feelings.
Sweet Nick’s has its issues (I’ll get to that soon enough) but the food is certainly not one of them. The hearty Haitian classics are what drew us in in the first place and they are absolutely worth tasting, especially if you haven’t had Haitian or Caribbean food before. I had the Oxtail Stew, an island favorite of kidney beans, vertebrae from the titular appendage and a creamy beef stock. The stock salted to perfection, delicious but not overwhelmingly salty, and the meat on the vertebrae was tender and gamey, though a bit hard to get off the bone. The Oxtail Soup is a great intro dish to Caribbean cuisine, but is also a bit messy to eat, so take that into consideration if you’re with someone you want to impress. My entrée was served with some expertly fried plantains, a bowl of tasty brown rice with black beans and a rather bland salad. I appreciate large portions, and at Sweet Nick’s I got so much that I wound up bringing about half my rice and a fried plantain home with me.
Service rests just below average at Sweet Nick’s. It’s important to note that this restaurant is nothing if not family-run, but rather than having the hospitable and endearing service of most mom-n-pop venues, the staff at Sweet Nick’s just come of as clumsy and untrained. That’s not to say we didn’t have some nice conversation with our first server, a friendly young man who I assumed to be the son or nephew of the owners, but he departed abruptly in the middle of our meal, leaving us with a gruff, older man who essentially left us to our own devices.
The atmosphere at Sweet Nick’s leaves a lot to be desired. While it seems, as we mentioned earlier, to draw from the same pool of influence as Taste of Peru, Nick’s interior is just plain dirty. It’s run down rather than kitschy. Some interesting Caribbean artwork hangs framed on the walls but the frames still have the craft store cardboard corner-protectors on them from when they were purchased. The chairs are comfortable, but the tables don’t appear to be cleaned quite often enough: food was caked on the placemats and there was a used napkin and cup on the table we were seated at; it remained there throughout the meal without any staff-member noticing it or offering to take it up for us. By some quirk of fate, the only episodes of Big Bang Theory and How I Met your Mother that I have ever seen before played on an old TV in the back of the restaurant. Finally, there was a teenager sitting behind a dated desktop in the corner; I’m not sure if he worked there but his quiet observation of the room from behind the computer was a little unnerving.
Date Factor (2/5)
Tasty as the food was, I don’t think this is a place I would take a girl to impress her. Its dingy atmosphere and mediocre service make Sweet Nick’s almost unredeemable as a date spot. I think that even those looking to impress their adventurously-eating significant others with an authentic spot like Nick’s might be biting off more than they can chew. It’s a dive, and not in a good way. That said, Sweet Nick’s does deliver, so perhaps you and your sweet can bypass the restaurant’s less attractive attributes and still get a taste of its dynamite cuisine.
Sweet Nick’s offers a limited selection of traditional Haitian cuisine. This blend of African and French flavors is a unique combination that titillates the palate. I ordered the fried pork, or Pork Griot. These fried pork chunks have a crispy crust and surprisingly moist interior. The intense flavors of pork and tomato-based dipping sauce highlight both the rich and light aspects of this Haitian classic. Every entrée is served with a side salad, fried plantains and a giant bowl of dirty rice with kidney beans. The salad is a lack-luster lettuce and tomato affair, served without dressing. The fried plantains, though thicker than my previous experience with this side dish, were hearty but in need of a dash of salt. They were served with pikliz, a coleslaw-like blend of cabbage and intensely spicy peppers, which brought some life to this otherwise bland dish. The real star of this meal, though, was the dirty rice. The amazing blend of seasons and surprisingly supple kidney beans married in the best bowl of rice I’ve ever eaten. Sweet Nick’s food is absolutely amazing.
The mom-n-pop attitude at Sweet Nick’s makes for a somewhat unpleasant service experience. The limited wait staff consists of an immigrant couple and another man who appears to be their more fluent son. About halfway through our meal, the son left the restaurant, leaving John and me to struggle to communicate with the less fluent couple. The breakdown in communication between servers and patrons makes Sweet Nick’s service quite nearly abysmal.
The only adjective phrase that comes to mind when thinking of Sweet Nick’s is creepy. When we sat down, two used napkins littered the table. The silverware was less than clean and the space was dingy. Poorly framed paintings and a mish-mash of furniture filled the space; a man sat at a small table at the side of the restaurant on a computer for the duration of our meal. Reruns of 1990s television shows played on an older television in the rear of the restaurant, and the supply closet was located in the dining space. Sweet Nick’s lacks the professional air that I expect from a restaurant of any caliber.
Date Factor (2/5)
If your date is only interested in the quality of the food, Sweet Nick’s is a reasonably safe place to dine. However, if anything other than the taste of the food factors into your assessment of a restaurant, I would suggest steering clear of this Haitian eatery when your significant other is in tow. Nothing about Sweet Nick’s even hints at a date environment, be it casual or something more special. This restaurant would be an optimal take-out joint, but a dine-in experience is not worth wasting a date.
Sweet Nick’s is a dive in the truest sense of the word: its delicious food is overshadowed by shady atmosphere and service. Although it may not be a date-worthy restaurant, calling in an order to Sweet Nick’s may be worth the money if you’re craving Caribbean food or a culinary adventure. Unfortunately the impressive food cannot overcome all of Sweet Nick’s problems.
If you’ve had an experience at Sweet Nick’s or have a suggestion on where we should dine next, feel free to leave a comment below!