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Hidden Gem

By Jenny Brule | Photography by Anna Naphtali

Posted: Thursday, Jul. 31, 2014

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Lineberger’s Cattle Company has been Lake Norman’s go-to restaurant for juicy, char-grilled steaks for 45 years. After nearly a half-century, their popularity is showing no signs of slowing down.

We visited on a Saturday evening. Arriving at 6:30 p.m., there were already groups of hungry, happy people waiting patiently for a table. “On weekends, we’ll turn the tables three times a night,” owner Ralph Starling states. Considering the restaurant seats 300 people at one sitting, that is a serious number of steaks they are grilling to order. But it’s not just the prime and choice steaks that have people lining up – it’s the seafood, sides, appetizers, desserts, and impressive salad bar that the throngs of loyal customers pay testament to.

Ralph Starling and his wife Janice bought Lineberger’s from Milton Lineberger 15 years ago. Both work at the restaurant every night it’s open—Ralph walking the floor, chatting with customers, picking up a stray dish here and there, while Janice greets guests at the front door. “We do anything that needs to be done,” Janice relates. And while the Starlings are willing to jump in, they’ve hired and retained staff with the same ‘can-do’ work ethic. Phyllis, a server, has been at Lineberger’s for 28 years and Donna, who works up front with Janice, has been there 15 years. “The average employee has been with us around seven years,” Ralph Starling relates. In the restaurant business, keeping employees for this long is practically unheard of.

The interior of Lineberger’s is rustic and fun with tinned detailing, weathered window pains and loads of antlers hanging from the walls. The clientele is multigenerational and made up of groups of friends, extended families and couples. Even though the restaurant was packed, service was fast and attentive.

We started with a nightly special of scampi (plump shrimp, cooked in a gorgeous, white wine and butter sauce, $9.99), Texas Howlers (Lineberger’s take on cheddar-filled jalapeño poppers that are perfectly balanced between spice and creamy cheese, $7.99), and Fried Hot Pepper Rings (spicy and lightly fried until crisp—served with a creamy Creole sauce, $6.99). They were all delicious, but our favorite was the Texas Howlers. If you go to Lineberger’s with a group, order lots of the appetizers for the table to share.

A trip to the salad bar comes with every entrée. It is quite possibly the best managed, cleanest salad bar we’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in. Lineberger’s uses as much local produce as possible and makes many of their dressings from scratch (tip: the house-made chunky blue cheese dressing is to die for).

Although, they are known for their prime rib (with several different size cuts), we were hankering for char-grilled steaks. We ordered a 7-ounce filet mignon ($25.99) and a 12-ounce rib-eye ($24.99). The steaks are grilled ‘Chicago style’ over gas-fired grills with hickory wood chunks. Chicago style means that the heat is intense, creating a wonderful crust on the outside while leaving the interior super juicy and flavorful. We ordered both steaks medium-rare with the garlic/black pepper rub. The filet was served with a mushroom Marsala sauce, which was a nice complement to the steak, and the rib-eye was served without any sauce (which it didn’t need). Garlic mashed potatoes and a baked sweet potato (huge and filled with butter and brown sugar) accompanied our steaks and were delicious.

Although we were tempted by dessert (the Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake looked unreal and the Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae sounded ridiculously decedent) we simply couldn’t eat another thing.

Lake Norman is lucky to have such a steak house. Lineberger’s steaks rival even the big city boys like Ruth’s Chris, but thankfully, not in price. www.linebergers.com

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