- A DAMN FINE LUNCH: Barbecue brisket and onion rings at Nick's in Carlisle.
There's a novelty place in Amarillo, Texas, with a restaurant, brewery, hotel and Texas-shaped swimming pool called the Big Texan Steak Ranch, whose far-flung billboards boast a "FREE 72. OZ. STEAK DINNER." (Free, that is, if you can manage the formidable task of eating it all.) Nick's Bar-B-Q & Catfish in Carlisle throws no such gauntlet, but it does share the Big Texan's marketing strategy of placing multiple billboards far enough away from the actual restaurant to create the impression that it's a destination in and of itself, some place famous enough for you to pay attention to well before the exit sign is in view.
That impression was reflected inside, too, as we drove past a scant few dining options along state Highway 13 in Carlisle — Sonic Drive-In, Subway, Pizza N More, Chester's Fried Chicken — to reach the sprawling, saloon-style building at the
Nick's makes its own BBQ sauce in hot and mild varieties, a selection of which the restaurant places front and center for
Nick's menu is huge and squarely Southern American: fried shrimp, smoked chicken sandwiches, taco salads, BBQ nachos, grilled chicken salads, fried dill pickles, cheeseburgers, rib plates to pair with fried okra or steamed veggies, smoked kielbasa. We took a cue from the establishment's name and ordered the Small Catfish Dinner ($9.99) and the Regular BBQ Beef Sandwich Basket ($8.49).
The "regular" BBQ beef sandwich, which came out swiftly in the hands of an attentive and gracious server, was enormous. God only knows what size we'd have gotten if we ordered the "jumbo" version ($8.99). Lightly sauced (with Nick's signature, we presumed) and cradled between two large hamburger buns were layers of brisket that, while certainly not the caliber of a dry-smoked competition specimen, made for a damn fine lunch. Sandwiches come with two sides, for which we picked the hand-battered onion rings (also offered as an appetizer for $2.99, which we'd discover was completely worth the double billing) and baked beans. The beans weren't adding much to the conversation. Like most bulk-simmered baked beans, they were sweet but unremarkable. Boring beans were forgotten and forgiven, though, after trying the onion rings. Liked baked beans, bragworthy onion rings can be difficult; even if you go to the trouble of making a homemade batter, the onions can suffer from too light a frying, slipping out and around their deep-fried cocoon so that you never really get a bite that's both onion and ring. These were among the best we've had — as in, ever. The batter was crisp and flaky, expertly fried so that, like a stellar beignet, they seemed light and delicate despite the caloric heaviness they undoubtedly acquired during their time in the fryer basket. The sandwich plate came with a sidecar of perfunctory cole slaw — nothing to write home about but hard to quibble with, which is maybe the point of
Maybe that's the idea behind fried catfish, too. For all its symbolism as
Our impression of the since-1972 Carlisle staple? Nick's Bar-B-Q and Onion Rings doesn't exactly make for a billboard-ready branding strategy, but it's a damn good guide for what to order for lunch.
Nick's Catfish & Bar-B-Q
1012 Bobby L. Glover Hwy.
The dessert options at Nick's include a "Cake of the Day" ($4.99/slice) and "Grandma's Homemade Pecan Pie" ($2.69), both of which you can top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($1.49). We bypassed both and left town with one of the Hand Made Fried Pies we saw lauded on the restaurant's tabletop napkin dispensers. The pies come in apple, apricot, peach or coconut, and the decadently flaky coconut cream pie we'd taken to go barely made it 10 minutes down the road before being inhaled.
10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday.
No alcohol, credit cards accepted. Bulk orders available.