Good grade

Preston Heller makes a pizza at Nik-N-Willies Pizza and Deli.

Preston Heller makes a pizza at Nik-N-Willies Pizza and Deli.

Photo By amy beck

Nik-N-Willies Pizza and Deli is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Located about a mile up SR 341 from 395—right before Geiger Grade becomes a grade proper—Nik-N-Willies Pizza & Deli is a little out of the way for most locals. Still, one recent weekday lunch hour was the perfect opportunity to take our new Subaru for a spin and enjoy some outdoor dining while soaking up sun and watching masochistic cyclists see if their climbing prowess can make the Grade.

My editor steers me away from reviewing chains, and I didn’t this time. I worked as a translator for a law firm in Berlin that maintained a brisk copyright infringement practice, so I couldn’t help but joke with the staff about the establishment’s titular similarity to a Colorado-based pizza chain. No worries. Our local Nik (without a “c”)-N-Willies (no apostrophe) has been in business for 18 years and is most definitely not to be confused with the multi-state operation known as “Nick and Willie’s,” vindicating the menu’s promise of “A welcome escape from franchise pizza.”

After resolving the trademark question, we sat down at one of the outdoor tables and enjoyed the sunshine and a clear view of the mountains. Then we started off with a Greek salad that was, in my view, what a Greek salad should be: potent. Even before we added the Greek vinaigrette, it was already tangy and delightful, and the constituents of feta, green olives and tomatoes on romaine lettuce made for a rich mélange that overwhelmed my husband, who ended up giving his balance to me.

Pizzas arrived in perfect time as the last of the salad vanished. The Mediterranean ($16.30 for the medium) was great. In my memory of it, there is a slight disparity between the menu’s listed ingredients (which did not include artichoke hearts) and what we had (which did). In any event, the spinach, green olives, garlic and other flora went great with the homemade crust—a beery, yeasty treat—and the rich tomato sauce nicely augmented with shameless quantities of oregano.

The owners are obviously very proud of their special cream cheese white sauce, pushing it as a key component in several menu options, so my husband felt obliged to try one: Pam’s Favorite ($16.30), with onions, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes—in essence a veggie with the white sauce. It pains me to say neither I nor my husband really cared for it, and most of it remains in my freezer as I write, being gradually removed piecemeal and augmented with different seasonings prior to microwaving. It just didn’t have an equivalent of the tangy oregano flavor supplied by the Mediterranean. But hey, somebody’s been eating this stuff for a couple of decades now, so don’t let my word be the last.

I encourage readers to form their own opinions, as well as to try some of Nik-N-Willies’ other excellent options; I can see why it has been in business for 18 years. It’s a quiet, out-of-the-way venue for Southies, as well as the perfect terminus to take out-of-towners hungry and beat from the obligatory tourist stop in Virginia City, and this is exactly how I intend to employ it.