When I started my radio show at WMNF in 2007, I was in the “prove yourself” timeslot. Monday mornings, 4-6 a.m. On Sunday nights, I’d work at Casa Tina’s waitressing until 9 or 10 p.m., grab a couple hours sleep and be out the door to Tampa again by 2:30 a.m. It wasn’t quite morning, but wasn’t quite night. After filing away records, I’d head over to Nicko’s Fine Foods on Florida Avenue.
Part Airstream, part restaurant, it’s arguably the best greasy spoon in town.
Nicko’s stark black (and perfectly coiffed) Elvis-like bouffant, never moving or changing, was a welcoming sight every time I walked through the sticker-covered door.
The waitress, Kathy, would kiss me on the cheek. It was usually half empty when I’d arrive sleep-deprived and hungry. The Elvis booth, patched with duct tape, was marked with a scratched-off gold placard:
“The Elvis Booth 50 years ago Elvis sat in this booth to eat after one of his concerts in 1956.”
The concert was his show at Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on Sun., Aug. 5, 1956. And unless you arrived very early, or very late, the chances of getting that booth were slim to none. I mean, Elvis Presley’s beautiful butt once rested on that vinyl, for goodness sake; those were the good Elvis years.
My post-radio-show order at Nicko’s rarely varied.
Two eggs over medium, bacon, grits, and rye toast with mixed fruit jelly. Black coffee, and keep it coming. Grits are served on a plate, like the good lord intended, not in a bowl. The prices are very friendly, breakfast with tip for under $10 friendly.
When a band came on my show and needed something to eat, I’d treat them to post-show breakfast. Kathy would smile and talk about rock 'n' roll with the scruffy folks I’d bring along. She’d tune the diner’s radio to 88.5, just to hear my show before I came in to eat.
It was like coming home, to a hot meal and a warm hug or a smile. I’d go home with a full belly and almost immediately fall asleep.
I don’t eat at Nicko’s at 6:30 a.m. on Mondays anymore, but I treasure those mornings.
Sit at the counter and chances are Nicko will perform some card tricks for you. But the real magic is that hair of his, and how, no matter what, everyone walks out of Nicko’s with a smile.