On the west side of Chalk Mountain, a dusty trail leads to an undiscovered holy grail of steakhouses.
The Silver Dollar Steakhouse was opened May 25 by head chef Westley White and his wife, Corey, at The Hideaway Ranch & Retreat in Bluff Dale. White said he always wanted to have a restaurant, but never thought he'd have the funds to do it.
Then a friend, J.J. Barton, ran into Jason and Traci Niedziela, the owners of The Hideaway, and heard they were opening a restaurant.
"They built this restaurant because their guests thought they needed a restaurant," White said. "They had no plans and didn't know what they were going to do with it."
Then he entered the picture. White had "catered a lot and all over." His cooking ambitions came from his father when he was growing up near the Mexico border. White said he used to cook steaks for his grandparents when he was just a boy.
"I grew up on a 63,000-acre ranch in between Del Rio and Eagle Pass," White said. "My Dad is a really good steak cook. I watched him growing up, and I think I've tweaked it a little bit and have done a little better job. I still use a lot of his old recipes. I give Dad a lot of credit."
A former team roper, White integrates his humble cowboy-style into his cooking and the restaurant. The building and furniture are all cedar, while White's cowboy memorabilia lines the walls -- his spurs, chaps, lasso, longhorns and two plaques for his eighth place finish in the Texas Steak Cookoff in Hico in May one week before the restaurant's opening.
"We got eighth out of 102 entries," White said with a disappointed look on his face. "I know we would've done better. I turned my last steak in a little bit too rare. I try to convert everybody to eat a little bit rarer. It was the first time we had ever entered and didn't know what to expect. We were proud."
The most interesting cowboy-themed piece on the location is what smokes the customer's brisket. A blue horse trailer sits outside the south side of the building with some metal removed from a blow torch. It can hold 20 briskets.
"I used to be a team roper and that was my old trailer, so when I quit roping I had to do something with it," White said. "So I turned it into a big smoker. Then I ended up with that big propane tank and thought it fit perfectly in there and it would be a crazy looking deal. We cut it all out with a torch and put hinges on the metal to fold it up."
As with his goal to win in the arena, White strives to cook the best steak ever every time he fires up his grill.
"I'm just a South Texas cowboy that learned out to cook on a ranch in South Texas," White said. "I take a lot of pride in our steaks and I think we do a really good job."
White said he hand-selects and cuts all his steaks. He cooks on mesquite wood and aims for simplicity.
"I think a lot of people try to do too much," he said. "I go to Hamilton every week to get our meat. Having the best steak in the country… that's my goal."
White thinks when it comes to grilling, the selection of meat is more important than the rub.
"I've been around the cattle industry my whole life and I can recognize a good cut from a bad cut," White said. "People kill themselves adding a bunch of junk on good meat. People will add brown sugar and all this stuff to their rubs on a ribeye, but you know, I want to taste the meat."
Ask him for his opinion about steak sauce and the cowboy will reach for his spurs as if he is about to enter into a Wild West shootout.
"You won't see an ounce of steak sauce in my restaurant ever as long as I live," White proclaimed. "There will be no steak sauce in here. If my steaks need steak sauce, then I need to close the doors. That's how I feel and how I've always felt."
One customer came to the Silver Dollar Steakhouse and ordered the signature 16-ounce "El Patron Ribeye." According to White, the customer had not cut into the steak yet and asked the waitress for steak sauce.
"I explained to him I will never have any steak sauce. So he ate his steak, he was happy and left, and he was the first customer back the next day," White recalled. "I think we got him off of steak sauce and he's been back two or three times since."
As for the brisket plates, White says there is no wrong choice and cannot say which is better.
"I think I have super brisket, but I love my steaks," he said. "I don't want to say my brisket is better than my steak, probably not. It just depends on what people want. I think my brisket is super. I've had a lot of people tell me it's the best they've ever had."
Even his two girls cannot decide which entree they like better.
"My kids are my biggest critics," White said. "They love steak and they love brisket. They always pat me on the back after we go somewhere else."
After building a big fire out of mesquite wood in the smoker's fire box, White adds pecan wood and then shuts the fire box down. White slow-cooks the Silver Dollar Steakhouse brisket inside the horse trailer smoker for 10 to 12 hours between 250 and 275 degrees, leaving the meat juicy yet still falling apart. The steak grill is simple, too -- nothing more than mesquite coals in another custom-cut propane tank. That grill is used to complete the filets, ribeyes or sirloins.
The young steakhouse serves lunch and dinner, as well as classic country-style breakfast plates in the morning, including skillet dishes, silver dollar pancakes and "El Vaqueros" -- eggs served on tortillas topped with homed chile sauce. The lunch menu consists of burgers, enchiladas and tortilla sausage wraps. Dinner is highlighted by mouth-watering steaks and brisket. White also recommends Corey's dessert plates like the "sopapilla cheesecake."
"If I screw up a steak, she's going to save me with her dessert," White said.
White said he doesn't know what the future holds for the steakhouse, but there are two upgrades he sees as realistic goals. He hopes to add to the Silver Dollar Steakhouse menus what other steakhouses might consider crazy -- a 20-ounce ribeye cut and an airstrip to provide access to the remote establishment.
"It's a huge steak," White said. "It's so unique and I have never eaten in a restaurant that has had one of those. I was looking on the Internet and pulled it up and knew I wanted that cut of meat. I think we'll have it soon…. be ready."
As outlandish as an airstrip outside of a steakhouse seems, it has been done before. The Lowake Steakhouse, 45 minutes outside of San Angelo, had a nearby airstrip in the small farm town. Private jets used to frequently touch down so diners could chow down on the famously large-portioned food offered at the steakhouse.
"People fly there to eat steak," White said. "I have a friend in Las Vegas and I used to run his ranch. He'd call me and say, 'Take the Suburban to the airport. I'm gonna fly here and pick up so-and-so and we're gonna eat steaks.' He would fly all the way from Las Vegas for me to cook him a steak. I think this could be a neat enough place to do that."
The Hideaway also offers cabins, which figure into White's goal to turn the Silver Dollar into a destination steakhouse.
"It's a super nice place to get away, bring the family or just for you and the wife," White said. "There's a hot tub in each cabin and we have archery and other activities. We've got stuff outside so kids don't have to wait in a chair for their meal. We have scavenger hunts and they can see the animals. It's fun for the whole family."
The Silver Dollar Steakhouse does not require reservations for lunch, but they are highly recommended for dinner.
For reservations or more information, call 254-459-0545.
Beau Tiongson, the Reporter's summer intern, is a sports radio talk show host for KTCU-FM 88.7 The Choice in Fort Worth.