Nick's in Wilmette highlights heirloom tomatoes for summer

August 16, 2013 (WILMETTE, Ill.)

Over the next few weeks, that neighbor of yours, the one with the garden, is probably going to be asking if you'd like any extra tomatoes. Pureed in soup or just sliced with kosher salt and olive oil, they are truly the fruits of summer. But don't overlook heirloom varieties. Several of them are getting put to good use on the North Shore.

They are a world away from the standard varieties you'll find in the grocery store. Heirloom tomatoes - like the ones being used by the bushel right now at Nick's Neighborhood Bar and Grill in downtown Wilmette - are almost a completely different fruit.

"Heirloom tomato basically means it's generations old. It's the same tomato. It's not cross-bred with anything; it's not a hybrid like most store-bought, supermarket tomatoes," said Derek Dwyer, the chef at Nick's.

That means a lot more flavor and color. Take the cherry heirlooms, for example. Dwyer sautees them with zucchini and homemade spinach fettucine, then serves them topped with seared sea scallops and micro greens.

"Oh they just burst with flavor. They're a lot more interesting than just a standard, red cherry tomato," he said.

The Black Krims are simply seasoned with salt and pepper, then layered with fresh mozzarella and purplish, opal basil, for a unique twist on a standard caprese salad.

"Most of the darker tomatoes - the purple, the black - they come from Russia. A lot of them are actually called Black Russian or Purple Russian tomatoes," said Dwyer.

Even a simple pink ping pong - which looks an awful lot like your run-of-the-mill red tomato - serves Dwyer well in a beautifully composed grilled chicken sandwich, served on ciabatta bread that's slathered with fresh pesto, stacked between layers of fresh avocado and peppery arugula with a marinated, grilled breast that's covered in provolone and smoked bacon. It's a BLT on steroids.

"This time of year I try to go to the farmer's markets actually here in Wilmette and just try to incorporate them into the menu any way I can," he said.

Nick's is open for dinner only, but on the weekends, they stay open pretty late for downtown Wilmette, until midnight.

Nick's Neighborhood Bar & Grill
1168 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette
(847) 251-3262

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