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Nice Pizza - Good for More than a Slice

Sandwiches, Salads, and Provencal Tomatoes just might beat the pizza.

There is a one-block stretch of Franklin Avenue, between Greene and Lexington Avenues, that has four restaurants, two bars, a cafe and a dessert bakery.

On that same block, squished between Alcatraz and Bistro Lafayette is Nice Pizza (pronounced neese), a French pizza place complete with red-and-white checkered table clothes and a wine menu.

Since I live nearby, I often stop in to grab a , which is surprisingly affordable and delicious with its cracker thin crust and fresh toppings. I always glance at the rest of the menu, but the pricing, usually between $7 and $9 for a salad or sandwich, seems a little too decadent for a meal en route.

So this time I decided to take the time to sit and enjoy a meal and a beer, and rather than ordering pizza, I turned my attention to the other menu options. I settled down at a table near the window, and admired the glow that Nice Pizza casts on Franklin Avenue.

From the outside, the restaurant points to a romantic dining choice - the table clothes, the candlelight - but once you’re inside, the tone is much more casual. There are sports on the TV, delivery boys running in and out, and is that Outkast playing in the background? That being said, for a pizza place, especially one that offers delivery, Nice Pizza is classy and definitely a place worthy of a sit-down meal.

I started off with a Nicoise salad, which, at $12, is one of the more expensive dishes on the menu. I soon found out why. This salad is clearly meant to be split between two, if not four. The heaping pile of fresh greens are topped with red peppers, celery, black olives, canned tuna, and anchovies, surrounded by slices of tomatoes and hard boiled eggs.

The dressing is a light olive oil, and cracked black pepper is sprinkled on top, making the flavors come from the ingredients themselves, rather than the dressing or seasoning. The tuna, anchovies, and eggs make this a hearty, salty dish, only lightly sweetened by the red peppers and tomatoes. A great option if you want a salad to fill you up.

Le Merguez ($8) is a sandwich designed for my taste buds. Dark, smokey, sweet and spicy lamb sausage sits between two slices of crunchy french baguette with a soft, warm center. This slathered with a thick layer of creamy goat cheese and topped with roasted red peppers makes for an incredible cold weather sandwich.

I might be biased, because I am a huge fan of lamb and goat cheese. But this sandwich is a must-have. It comes with a side salad of mixed greens, topped with a creamy vinaigrette with a pronounced garlic kick.

“Ready for more salad?” asked the waitress, as she brought me my third dish -- Tomates Provencales. Four baked tomato halves are neatly situated around another pile of mixed greens with the same creamy vinaigrette that came with my sandwich.

The soft, hot, and juicy tomatoes are topped with bread crumbs, and seasoned with parsley, basil, garlic, and thyme. For $6, this a delectable treat - the bread crumbs add a slight crisp and the herbs overload each bite with flavor. While the tomatoes are a little too salty on their own, combined with the salad they make for a refreshing, warm dish.

For dessert, I highly recommend the Raspberry Clafoutis ($6). This is a thick, creamy custard topped with fresh raspeberries and confectioners sugar, served warm. The creamy, sweet flavor is perfect, but the fresh berries also add a slightly sour tang, which only adds to the flavor.

Next time you pass Nice Pizza, consider it as more than just "a pizza joint."

And for all you goat cheese fans, get Le Merguez. I promise, you won’t be dissapointed.

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