As a child, Hunter Johnson heard all the tales about his parents’ trips to Nick’s Original Filet House while they were growing up in Tuscaloosa and later attending the University of Alabama. Eating there with his family was so ingrained, he isn’t really sure exactly when he had his first meal at the unassuming restaurant that locals call “Nick’s in the Sticks.”
“I always remember going,” says Johnson, a newspaper ad rep and co-host of the sports podcast, “The ’Bama Beat.” “I’m sure I was 4 or 5 years old. I distinctly remember the salad dressings in little bowls. You’d dip everything in those little tubs.”
In the city where champions are made, Nick’s deserves a spot in the hall of fame.
Anyone with a connection to the University of Alabama or T-Town probably is familiar with Nick’s lore. For the rest, here’s a quick tour:
The original location, which opened in 1939, earned its nickname because it was way out in the country, just over the Greene County line. At the time Greene County was wet and Tuscaloosa County was dry.
The founder, Nick Delgado, moved his namesake restaurant to its current location on Culver Road, just southwest of Tuscaloosa, when that county started allowing alcohol sales in the early 1950s. Lloyd Hegenbarth became the third owner when he bought the establishment from Richard Norton in the mid-1980s; Carla Hegenbarth, Lloyd’s wife, has run it since his death in 2014.
As the handle might imply, Nick’s in the Sticks is far from a fancy steakhouse. A huge Atlanta Braves jersey and an American flag hang in the front windows of the tiny building with fading Crimson paint.
The interior evokes a clubhouse that’s frozen in time. Currency personalized by customers carpets the ceiling. Its signature rum punches — a boozy Zombie (a mere $4.50) and even stronger Nicodemus ($5.50) — are served in foam cups. Its signature salad dressing is a house blend of ranch and blue cheese.
Waiting on a table while hanging out with others is considered part of the ambiance. The restaurant only has 50 seats or so, so a wait is fairly common.
“When you’re a kid, the wait stinks,” Johnson says. “But when you’re over 21 it really doesn’t matter. That just means you can drink two or three Nicodemuses. And you’ll be feeling pretty good by the time dinner comes.”
Folks rave about the friendly service once seated. Plus, you can get a steak at a great price. The iconic bacon-wrapped filet is $11.50 for a four-ounce portion and $14 for six ounces. The 12-ounce rib eye and 18-plus-ounce T-bone also play meaty roles.
Nick’s also is fried-food heaven. In addition to the restaurant’s beloved hand-dipped onion rings, you can order fried chicken livers or gizzards, as well as shrimp, chicken, and fries.
After 82 years in business, Nick’s remains a family tradition for many.
“It kinda became the cool thing for us as kids, going to Nick’s,” Johnson says. “Then when I was in college, I’d get to tell a lot of my friends from out of town or out of state that didn’t know about Nick’s. And when they come back into town now, they take their kids.”