Clay Waliski has been surrounded by great barbecue for his entire life. The 39-year-old owner of Nick’s Bar-B-Q and Catfish in Carlisle, Arkansas, entered the world when the roadside restaurant was already 11 years old, having been started by his grandfather Nick Waliski in 1972.
Waliski has seen the restaurant grow through three different buildings on the property, as it went from accommodating 65 patrons to 130 in a 1999 renovation, and now hosts up to 200. From travelers to truckers, Nick’s is known as the last great restaurant to eat within 500 miles and has been packing them in thanks to great word-of-mouth and online reviews.
“As we doubled our capacity again with the newest building, we still wanted to give plenty of room for people to stretch out and relax after a long drive,” explained Waliski.
“The most unique thing is that we’re in a town of 2,500 people and can provide a place with the size and scope to cater to clients from all over,” said Waliski. “Whether you walk in and you’re wearing a pair of work sleeves and you’ve been out on the farm or been in a big truck going across state lines constantly; whether you’re a banker or an executive or someone who’s very accomplished and well known, this is for you.”
Barbecue, chicken, shrimp and catfish dinners, as well as combo platters that combine two of those four signature items together with a healthy portion of sides. But it’s Nick’s Ultimate Combo that provides the greatest experience, with sizable portions of smoked ribs, pork, beef, chicken and sausage along with heaping sides, all put together at a varying “market price.”
That combo may be expensive, but all the combos offer enough food to create up to two extra meals from the leftovers and wind up being an unforgettably delicious deal. The other combos and dinners and the wide array of burgers and sandwiches offer great grub at lower competitive prices.
Waliski is a hands-on boss who puts in long hours, taking pride in being accessible to customers if they somehow do have a complaint, and arranging to fix problems personally. That’s a continuation of his grandpa Nick’s spirit, as Clay recalls him being a great man but also a workaholic who finally succumbed to heart problems in the 1990s.
Nick’s wife also helped out a lot in the restaurant, but passed away in the early 2010s, just as the family was beginning to plot its latest expansion.
“For a year or two, that sort of killed our desire to do much of anything other than just try to get through the day,” recalled Waliski. “But by 2016, we finally were ready to go for it, and we knew it was a long process. Not only was it time to design a new building and find the right contractors, but we also made a list of 100 things we felt Nick’s could do better, and we made sure every one of those improvements was achieved.”
Waliski notes that he enjoys coming in to the restaurant every workday, and is proud the family was able to defy one dire prediction Nick had made before his passing.
“He said he thought the restaurant wouldn’t last more than six months after his death, but my grandmother was a strong woman and was determined to prove him wrong,” he said. “I hope they’re looking down and smiling to see what their hard work over many years has accomplished.”
Nick’s Bar-B-Q and Catfish is located at 1104 Bobby L. Glover Highway off Exit 183 on I-40 in Carlisle. Call (870) 552-3887 or (870) 552-7845. Visit nicksbq.com.