STARKE – Standing at the cash register at a convenience store in Starke, I asked the two cashiers if they could recommend a really first rate restaurant – and preferably not a well-known and overly familiar chain, but a family-owned restaurant unique to the community. They virtually shouted back to me in unison.
“The steak house!”
Neither one could remember the exact name of the restaurant, but they did point out that it was a short distance away on U.S. 301, the busy highway that cuts through this very quaint town – and that it would be on the left.
If you’re driving through Starke, my guess is you’re there for one of two reasons. First, you’re on your way to someplace else, like the nearby college town of Gainesville.
The other possibility is that you’re there, as I was, to see Starke’s big industry: the prisons that employ so many of the locals, and house so many of the state’s convicted felons. I had gone, earlier in the day, to one of those correctional institutions, called the New River O Unit, to visit a friend who is an inmate there. I happened to ask two of the correctional officers if they could recommend a really good, family-owned restaurant. They, too, looked at one another, and then they both instantly said “The steak house” — without, ironically, being able to think of the exact name.
It’s not every day that you get recommendations from employees at a local WalGreens and guards at a state prison to go to the same dining establishment, but I got the distinct sense that these area residents were not trying to steer me wrong. And, as it turns out, my gut instinct was correct. They sent me to the right place.
It wasn’t hard to find Western Steer, the family-owned restaurant at 1100 S. Walnut St. (U.S. 301). The very tall sign is right on the highway, and the outside has an appealing wooden bridge and walkway over a small, picturesque pond. At the front of the restaurant is a neon sign that says “Sizzling Steaks.” When I arrived, the parking lot was full — usually a pretty good indication I’m about to walk into a crowd-pleaser.
Western Steer is a good-sized restaurant, with three large dining rooms. It offers both steaks and a huge buffet, so you have your choice of what to order. When you first walk in, there’s a billboard above the cash register with a lengthy list of steak options, all of them quite affordably priced, including the Hamburger Steak ($5.99), the Petite Sirloin ($5.99), the Regular Sirloin ($6.99), the Sirloin Tips ($6.49), and the Ribeye ($9.99). All of these plates come with a choice of a baked potato or fries.
You can also get the buffet for $7.49, and it’s truly a meal onto itself. It includes a salad bar, complete with everything from lettuce, pickles, beets and cucumbers to potato salad, chicken salad, cole slaw and cottage cheese.
There’s also a meat section that include chicken and other beef products, plus some steamed vegetables like cabbage. Once again, if you’re there are steak, there’s lots to pick from, but if you simply want to fill up at the buffet, that won’t be difficult, either.
I opted to be greedy and do both, getting the Petite Sirloin with the salad bar. My meal came with the steak (very well done, as I like it, with the edges just a tad bit charred), plus a baked potato and role. The sign wasn’t lying, it was sizzling, and quite delicious.
The salad bar also includes a dessert section with tasty treats like Banana Pudding, Bread Pudding, Jello and chocolate or vanilla ice cream. The doors to the rest rooms humorously proclaim “Cowgirls” and “Cowboys.”
Western Steer also boasts community involvement, civic pride, and a sense of patriotism. The restaurant hosts a Community Men’s Bible Study group that meets there every Wednesday at 7 p.m., and out front there’s a row of patriotic looking small flags that line the driveway. But with the amount of very good food that you get here at such downright cheap prices, it’s easy to see why so many of the locals, from a state prison to a convenience store, would steer me to this place.
I just wish they could remember its name: Western Steer.
Western Steer also has a banquet room, and does catering. To learn more, call 904-964-8061.
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