Nick’s dates back to 1920, when Nicholas Pappas came to Fall River with a hot-dog sauce formula he learned in Philadelphia. The wood-paneled wall holds a gallery of photos showing some of the celebrities who have eaten here since then, among them Lucille Ball, Judy Garland and Stooges Larry, Moe, and Curly.
Similar to the New York System weenie of adjacent Rhode Island, a hot dog at Nick’s is small and pink with gentle flavor that begs to be doctored up. The standard “works” configuration is a squiggle of mustard, a line of the spicy, dark meat sauce and a scattering of chopped raw onions, all loaded into a fleecy bun. In my book, this is one of those curious dishes of which no single ingredient is glorious (although an argument could be made for the sauce); nor is the whole package one of those swoonfully delicious things that induces love at first bite. No, I find these little things offer a more progressive pleasure that leads from taste-buds bafflement to intrigue to pleasure, and ultimately, to addiction. One is only the beginning. Two is a nice snack. Four would be a meal, except for the fact that if you buy five at Nick’s, you get the sixth one free. Nick’s weenies are the foundation also for a Fall River delight known as the bean dog; it is a tube steak bedded on a scattering of sweet baked beans.
Smoky chourico is huge in this region thanks to the Portuguese roots of so many citizens; and another local creation is the chourico and fry plate, which is sliced discs of sausage along with a few French fries in a bun surrounded by lots more French fries. Nick’s makes its fries as they are needed. When you order them, someone steps to the back, grabs a potato, puts it in the French fry cutter, then takes the little white spud logs and throws them into a vintage Autofry machine that dispenses the cooked potatoes after their allotted cooking time.
Beyond hot dogs, bean dogs, and chourico sandwiches Nick’s serves that curious Fall River delight, a melted cheddar cheese sandwich. Honestly, if I visited a dozen times, eager to try out local exotica and hot dog variations, my brain likely would never even have registered “Melted Cheese Sandwiches,” much less ordered one. But thankfully, dining partners Chris Ayers and Amy Briesch were more astute. Having done some serious homework about Fall River, Amy discovered that, sure enough, melted cheddar cheese sandwiches are a big deal in many of the city’s hot dog joints. While the other examples we sampled around town used cheddar so finely shredded that it seemed to have been through a ricer, Nick’s makes its version using tiles of sharp cheddar that melt but don’t quite drip. With some of that magic hot sauce on top, sandwiched in a supersoft bun, it’s a wonderful little sandwich.
And what better place to eat these nostalgic treats than in one of the 100-year-old school desks lined up along Nick’s wall?