In the Kitchen: Nikhil Naiker Brings Tropical Flavors to Courtland Club

The West End speakeasy-style bar welcomes Nimki as a permanent fixture


From the moment you pull up to Courtland Club, tucked into a quiet residential street off of Broadway, you suspect this might be unlike just about any other bar experience you’ve had in Rhode Island – or maybe even anywhere. The building is easy to miss: cedar shiplap siding with small, rectangular windows that you can’t see into, a heavy gray door, and a large enclosed patio. There’s no sign, just a “51” above the door. New visitors might think,“this can’t possibly be it.” 

Nothing about Courtland Club is as you’d expect it – not the exposed brick walls that cradle old pizza ovens (back in the 1920s, this was a Crugnale Bakery of pizza strip fame) and act as a canvas for the projections of obscure video footage, nor the vintage glassware and stained-glass window that owner Jason Shechtman acquired during trips to antique shops before he opened the club in 2017. There’s the soft-seating space with a custom leather banquette, and a nine-seat bar.

The food that the kitchen turns out is unexpected, too, in the most delightful of ways, especially with a new partnership in place between Courtland and chef Nikhil Naiker of Nimki, which has been serving Courtland’s customers as an occasional pop-up since 2019. Shechtman and Naiker have decided to make the partnership permanent, allowing Naiker and his second-in-command Ricardo Silva to expand their offerings.

“I’m so excited to do this,” Naiker says, “to have a home base where I can develop new things.” A Johnson & Wales grad with a degree in culinary arts and sustainability, he honed his chops at the now-closed north restaurant before creating Nimki. Naiker has described his own cooking style as “New England Tropical,” because it combines his love of local meats and seafood with cooking techniques and flavors that he learned growing up in Fiji, and then in the Monterey Bay region of California. “I think for the longest time I was afraid to lean into those tropical flavors that mean so much to me,” he says. “But it's been really fun to share these flavors and dishes with people who might not have had them before.”

Examples of menu items include a Rock Crab and Carrot Flatbread with brown butter, peppercorn miso sauce, mustard, and lime, or a Roasted Black Bass with coconut broth, cumin herb oil, and bok choy. His Spiced and Fried Chicken Sandwich with jalapeño and cabbage slaw and tamarind chutney is a favorite and has claimed a permanent spot on the menu, while other offerings will change according to what ingredients are freshest and available. There will be small plates and larger ones, and they’ll all be crafted to work alongside the unique cocktail program at the club, devised by beverage director Laura Ganci. “His food complements our cocktails so well,” says Shechtman. 

The official partnership will also allow for the development of new collaborations between the kitchen and bar. When Naiker proposed a lamb barbecue to take place later this spring, it led to a conversation about using the leftover fat from the meat to create fat-washed cocktails, in which fat is mixed with a spirit – say, whiskey – and then frozen. The fat rises to the top and is scraped off, but the flavor of it is left behind in the alcohol, adding another level of flavor to the drink.

“We want to create experiences for people,” Shechtman says. And while the club does offer speakeasy-style paid memberships, it is absolutely open to everyone. When Crugnale moved out of the space in the 1930s, what succeeded it was a long line of post WWII-era men’s clubs; Shechtman wanted to honor that spirit of hospitality and camaraderie, while updating for contemporary sensibilities, and he has. But this latest incarnation of 51 Courtland Street is poised to be its most successful, and thanks to the appointment of Naiker, surely its most delicious.

The Courtland Club

51 Courtland Street



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