Sometimes you just want a decent steak

Basic, straightforward and excellent: Nick's settles into an old brick mill
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Kate Melton

This magazine and, it seems, much of the Rochester media corps, is constantly urging you to be more adventurous in your dining choices. There are hundreds of creative chefs in this market delivering the best of ethnic tradition and fresh, new trends that tap into the incredible agricultural bounty of the area. But sometimes you just want a decent steak. We can help you with that too.

Nick’s Chophouse Wine and Martini Bar, a half-block off Main Street in Canandaigua, is an unapologetic throwback to an era when a night out meant a slab of charred beef, a baked potato, and a stiff martini to wash it down. It’s the kind of place to bring a first date, celebrate a birthday, or impress your parents.

Nick Fabbio spent years working in the Mexican restaurants that leased the brick building on Beeman Street owned by his father Peter, a homebuilder in both Ontario County and the Virgin Islands. After a kitchen fire prompted Rio Tomatlán to relocate to Bemis Street, Fabbio and his father decided to jump into the restaurant business themselves. The elder Fabbio hoped to recreate the atmosphere and menu offerings of some of his favorite steakhouses, and the younger had the experience to pull it off.

“We were lucky,” he explains. “The fire was under a main water line that burst and put out the flames. The damage was limited to one part of the bar area that we needed to remodel anyway. We opened it up to the brick wall and built a new bar.”

With a few small touches, the place has been transformed. Where Rio Tomatlán was a sharp linen shirt and a Panama hat, Nick’s Chophouse is a black, three-piece suit and a fedora. Blue-hued lights in the bar hint at urban chic and set the stage for weekend live piano sets. The dining room is darkened, illuminated by white panes of light that turn out to be backlit menus, an idea Peter Fabbio picked up at a Ritz Carlton in the Caribbean. 

The martini must come first, tonight a basic “dirty” one ($8) with gin, vermouth, and the olive brine slopped in. The first sip is ice cold, tart, and as bracing as it should be. The shrimp cocktail ($10) is another martini glass with four gigantic shrimp arranged around a dollop of red sauce made with lots of nose-clearing horseradish. The shrimp are chilled and have that firm pop you want to get on the first bite.

Another appetizer is a common selection in Italian places throughout western New York: flash-fried calamari ($9). However, this squid was rolled in spicy blue corn meal, perhaps a nod to the property’s Latino predecessors. It’s served with a nice marinara and amply portioned for two—though the leftover cocktail sauce from the shrimp also makes for good dipping.

In fact, almost everything on the menu is served a la carte in servings meant for sharing. There is a thirty-eight ounce “Porterhouse for Two” for $70, but in truth, the twenty-four ounce cut ($37) is enough to satisfy a couple of people, as long as they can agree on the steak temperature.

The porterhouse comes out on a white plate, its three-spice rub blackened just right. Though ordered medium rare, the steak has been allowed to rest and cuts neatly, with very little blood. The rub is a nice touch, but it mostly gets out of the way for the complex flavor of a wet-aged choice cut of Black Angus beef. It’s exactly what you expect a good steakhouse to serve you. It’s nothing too fancy, just a slab of meat with a better sear than you could possibly muster on the Weber back home.

The side is basic creamed spinach ($7), but it could have been a twice-baked potato, steamed asparagus, roasted mushrooms, or any of several other typical dishes you’d expect to find in chophouses going back a hundred years. They’re on the menu for good reason.

“I know good food,” says Fabbio. “Doesn’t have to be fancy. Doesn’t have to have a million ingredients on one plate. It just has to make you happy.”

This is not to say that there aren’t a few surprises on the menu to entice those in your party who would rather have something besides steak. The ahi tuna steak comes out blackened, seared, and seasoned with wasabi and sriracha. Ginger scallops are drizzled with citrus ponzu and topped with Thai-inflected slaw. The baked penne is a Fabbio family recipe that goes back generations. There’s also duck confit, lobster tails, a rack of lamb, pork chops, and enough other selections to keep a large party content. 

Gluten-averse patrons needn’t worry. Most of what is served at Nick’s is naturally gluten-free, and the alfredo can be made with non-gluten noodles. There’s also a gluten free chocolate lava cake to cap off the meal.

Steakhouses are a touchstone in American culture that most everyone has an opinion about, and there are a lot of fantastic steakhouses in the Rochester area. With its attention to quality ingredients prepared with skill, Nick’s Chophouse deftly holds its own. It sticks to the fundamentals, provides a cozy atmosphere and, as Fabbio puts it, displays just enough flair to “get people off their phones to have an honest to God conversation.”

Nick’s Chophouse Wine and Martini Bar is at 5 Beeman Street in Canandaigua and at 393-0303. 


Mark Gillespie is the communications manager for the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Science. He is an avid fan of the region’s food, culture, and great outdoors.

Categories: Food & Drink, Mark Gillespie, Taste, Taste – Top Story