We live in a city where folks will sit in their car for literal hours for a White Castle burger. When I visited recently, on the legendary burger joint’s opening day, one man in the drive-through line — bumper to bumper with die-hards — admitted it would be his slider maiden voyage.
“I figure you gotta have it once,” he told me.
Pennsylvania-based restaurant Nick Filet made a smaller splash on its soft entry into full-blown chaindom here in town back in May. Orlando, after all, is a proven testing ground for such things. But when we rolled into its dining room at dinnertime on a Wednesday, it was crickets. Not a soul, inside or out, save three staffers, in a fast-casual joint that slings filet mignon and lobster.
I’d say it might be the prices (sandwiches, the signatures, anyway, run between $11.50 and $30), but heck, this is basically Restaurant Row. There’s a London House here. The denizens of Dr. Phillips are used to high-end steak and lobster, among myriad opulent edibles. Kabooki Sushi Sandlake is less than 10 minutes from here, and the cars parked in front of that place on a Saturday night start at 200 large.
Maybe it was a fluke.
Nick Filet isn’t just a fun name; it’s a fun concept. #FiletForAll was an out-of-the-gate hashtag for the burgeoning franchise, which opened its first place in a former doughnut shop in Paoli, Pennsylvania. A piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that its founder, Nick Kline, had always wanted to open a traditional steakhouse, but Kline’s dad, a Wall Street veteran, talked him out of it. Instead, the young upstart — at 24 and with just two years of restaurant management under his belt — spun up a new concept to turn the food of the rich into the food of the people.
One way to the hearts of Pennsylvanians (and sandwich lovers in general) is with Amoroso rolls, which stand up to cheesesteaks like champions, holding together amid shaved beef and onions even as the paper bag in which the sandwich is carried begins to greasily disintegrate.
It’s a fine choice for a handheld like the Nickadelphia, with its Provolone and fried onions and horseradish sauce. We went for the smallest cut — a 1/4-pound slab — which could have used a better sear but was otherwise nicely executed with a warm, pink center.
A note: These are sandwiches definitely best eaten in-house. Bringing them home isn’t impracticable, but if you’re scarfing White Castle on-site for its mayfly-like shelf life, you’ll want to do the same for this — the arguable Lamborghini of fast food, in particular, if you’re going for one of the larger cuts. Each sandwich is available in 1/2- and full-pound versions, as well.
I mean, you can order Linda’s La Cantina on Grubhub, but for heaven’s sake, why would you?
The Nicky Diablo was tasty enough — hot sauce, fresh, thick-cut jalapeño slices and pepper jack afford the heat here. There are other signatures, too. Throw a dart at the one that sounds best and pair it with the Old Bay tots (three available sizes range from $2.59 – $7.49). These were the best of the sides we sampled, hot and crispy.
There are some seemingly lavish choices — lobster or surf and turf mac & cheese — but I’d steer clear. Save the tony toppings as the main event rather than garnish on bland, sticky mac ($5.49).
There are less beefy selections for mains — from the lobster roll ($15.99), which leans Maine-style — served cold with mayo, but with a drizzle of warm butter (a hat-tip to Connecticut?) to the Surf & Turf sandwich ($18.99). On this one, the lobster is warm — the consensus was that warm was better — and commingled with a half-pound of filet bites.
They have the steak timed well here. Even these small pieces, most of them, retained some level of pink inside. It’s a decadent sandwich, to be sure — ample but not supersized — the roll nicely toasted. Again, these buns conform beautifully to the contents. Held properly and firmly, there’s little chance of fallout.
Overall, at Nick Filet, the sandwiches — those filets out front — are the stars, though few people seem to be gazing these days. I tried them again, smack in the middle of lunch on a Friday, and there were only two other customers in the place. Granted, they could do a bit to jazz up the joint — but really, the draw (for me, anyway), was the novelty.
Like the dude from the car line, I figured you gotta have it once, right?
Perhaps most of the curious already have.
It’s fast food. I wasn’t expecting much, but those filet sandwiches were all right. And if you’re craving a juicy hit of steak, it could scratch that itch.
But if you have $30 for a Nick Filet, there are several steaks at Linda’s that go for even less — including a small filet mignon — that’ll scratch it a whole lot better. And each of them comes with salad, bread and a side. Perhaps I’m not the only person who thinks so.
If you’re still curious, though, go. There’s probably no line.
If you go
Nick Filet: 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd. in Orlando, 407-250-6588; nickfilet.com/
Want to reach out? Find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie. Email: [email protected]. For more fun, join the Let’s Eat, Orlando Facebook group or follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.