CURIOUS GORGE

Friendly service, dizzying variety and heaps of food make Nick's an appealing place. Open til 1 a.m. every night, it's an especially good late-night stop for everyone except slow readers and the chronically indecisive. Mike's Golden Crust, 8806 North 43rd Avenue, Glendale, 435-1946. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday through Monday, 4 to 9 p.m.

Imagine serving dinner to 30 friends in a New York studio apartment and you'll have an idea of the ambiance at this unpretentious, BYOB Glendale eating spot.

There are nine tables covered with oilcloth, some posters on the wall, and a high-powered air conditioner cooling things off. Behind the small pastry case at the back, you can peer into the bustling kitchen.

For the past six months, Mike, a veteran of Tommy Tomaso's, has been living the American dream: running his own place, with impossibly long and hard hours, aided by two sons. By 7 p.m. on a summer Friday night, the dream is alive. The place is full, and they're turning away customers.

What's the attraction? Solid, occasionally outstanding southern European fare at very reasonable rates. You get plenty of bang for your buck. My oldest kid, like her old man, adores linguini with white clam sauce. Mike's version comes in a big bowl, smothered with lots of clams, olive oil and garlic. It's not fancy, but it's fragrant and filling.

The other kid prefers cheesy pastas drenched in tomato sauce. Her eyes lighted up at the manicotti marinara, pasta tubes filled with ricotta, provolone and fontina, topped with baked mozzarella and marinara sauce. Even though she knows there's no such thing as a free dinner, she was extraordinarily reluctant to pass any of her dish over my way. But a few soft, pleading words, some rational discussion about the nature of my work, and the threat of severe bodily harm yielded me a few grudging bites. But that was all I got, because she quickly licked the plate clean. My wife looked up from her dish and muttered something about the fruit not falling far from the tree. I reacted maturely by claiming a significant share of her terrific four-cheese lasagna. Not stuffed between thick layers of pasta, as is usual, the ingredients came heaped on top: chicken strips, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, feta and ricotta cheese, baked with a light Parmesan cheese crust. It's wonderfully creamy, and smack-your-lips tasty.

I ordered chicken Vesuviana, at $6.25 about the most expensive dinner item on the menu. It's lightly breaded chicken breast with eggplant and mozzarella, and a winning alternative if you're not in the mood for pasta.

Mike also does pizza, and he was doing land-office takeout business. His Greek Isles specialty showed us why. It had the taste of the sea, and no wonder--it was jam-packed with shrimp, calamari, scallops, scungilli and clams.

A note of caution: Do not eat this pizza around your cat, unless you enjoy being serenaded with plaintive howls. Surprisingly, the only routinely ordinary dish we sampled was the gyro sandwich. The thick pita held nothing more than a couple of tomato wedges and unmemorable thin slices of meat.

Mike's desserts are all homemade, and he supplements his business by wholesaling them to other restaurants.

I had low expectations for the tiramisu, a complex dessert usually found in fancy places selling for five or six dollars. But Mike's $2.25 version is the first decent, reasonably priced tiramisu I've had, with lots of creamy (and expensive) mascarpone cheese. The eclairs, too, were fresh, buttery and loaded with a distinctive, rich, custardy filling.

Judging from the crowds and ringing telephone, Mike will be looking for larger digs shortly. So get here soon, before you have to subsidize more square feet, arty decor and nonfamily help.

THE ABORTION SURVEY... v9-02-92

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