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Dinner At The Lone Jack Comes With Lots Of Company

I know how explorers like Lewis and Clark must have felt.

There’s a thrill that comes with poking around new territory and discovering something special in the middle of nowhere.

The residents of Potlatch, Idaho, (population 800) would probably object to their burg being dubbed “Nowheresville,” but The Lone Jack Steak Company isn’t technically in town. It’s three miles west of Potlatch on U.S. Highway 95, with nothing else around.

The Lone Jack Steak Company’s savory steaks and plentiful portions would be welcome on any big-city dining scene, but its out-of-the-way location gives it a special allure. Diners trek from throughout the region, but mostly from Pullman and Moscow, 15 miles to the south. From Spokane, it takes a little more than an hour, depending on the route you take.

Unless you are looking for it, Lone Jack would be easy to miss. The restaurant is located in a modern, rancher-style building with a small, tasteful sign. Inside, diners are welcomed by a pleasant interior, with silk plants, brass fixtures and cheery pine booths. There’s comfy seating in the waiting area, which is often full. The paper menus double as placemats and set the tone of the place. Lone Jack is comfortable, not fancy.

The menu is no-nonsense, too.

Naturally, the emphasis is on beef. There are four sizes of sirloin ranging from a hefty 24-ounce for $18.95 to a petite six-ounce cut for $8.95. There is also a 12-ounce rib eye ($14.95) and a 20-ounce T-bone ($17.95) along with a few surf and turf combinations. All steaks are centercut, USDA choice.

The menu also includes a regular nightly feature. For instance, Wednesdays are chicken fried steak nights, Saturday is for prime rib lovers and the Sunday special is barbecued pork chops.

A small selection of seafood, pasta and chicken items round out the menu, with prices ranging from $7.95 to $12.95. There’s also a burger ($6.95) and several choices for children, which are under $5.

We were greeted with a relish tray, a nice, old-fashioned tradition that helps ease hunger pangs.

Our foursome decided to pass on the appetizers. With the exception of the charbroiled, peel-and-eat shrimp, nothing sounded particularly appealing.

Besides, we wanted to save room for the mammoth-sized meals.

Dinners are served with salad or soup, a choice of rice, baked potatoes, oven-roasted red potatoes or french fries, garlic bread and barbecued baked beans or cole slaw. In other words, wear your pants with the expandable waistline.

Our efficient waitress wowed us by taking our entire order without writing anything down. A true talent.

She delivered our first course with lightning speed, too. The salads were the simple iceberg lettuce variety, but, after all, these are the dark days of winter. The slightly sweet poppyseed dressing is made in-house, but it was the creamy ranch that impressed us.

The meat eaters in our group selected two different steaks - the Lone Jack steak, a 10-ounce portion, and the pepper steak. Another guest ordered a pesto pasta topped with grilled chicken and I tested the waters with the salmon.

In terms of flavor, the steaks were tops. They were grilled over mesquite, giving them a nice smoky quality. They were tender and had a hearty, beefy flavor. The execution could have been better, though.

The pepper steak didn’t have the spicy kick normally associated with that dish. While it was topped with some nicely sauteed mushrooms, as far as we could tell, they had forgotten the sauce.

The other sirloin, the Lone Jack steak, was a fine cut of meat, but it arrived medium instead of medium rare, as ordered. This was a little disappointing because the menu makes such a big deal in explaining the different ways to order your meat. (It says blood rare steaks have a cold, raw center; medium rare have a warm red center and well has no juice left. The restaurant, by the way, says it is not responsible for well-done steaks, a policy that is presumably meant to discourage diners from ruining a perfectly good cut of meat.)

At a steakhouse, it can be a gamble to order seafood, but I hit the jackpot with the salmon. It was nicely cooked, with a slight crust that comes from the grill. Inside, it was still moist and flaky. The light butter sauce served on top of the filet seemed unnecessary because it didn’t add much flavor to the fish.

The crispy, well-seasoned roasted red potatoes were a treat, as was the creamy, crunchy cole slaw. I enjoyed having two salads with dinner. Three, if you count the relish tray. That’s a lot of rabbit food for a steak joint.

Opinions were sharply divided after sharing bites of the chicken pesto pasta. Two diners thought the basil was too subtle and the dish was too creamy to be called pesto.

The dish was more like a fettucine alfredo, but I thought it was a good variation of the garlicky-basil classic.

I also appreciated the fat, fresh noodles. They were cooked al dente - still a little firm, but not chewy.

And the diner who ordered the pasta was pleased, especially because the platter-sized portion meant leftovers for lunch the next day. A half-order is also available.

As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, all meals come with great garlic bread - slices of sourdough, toasted on the grill.

At the end of the meal, we were all stuffed. Which was a shame because the desserts, all made in-house, looked tempting. But all we could do was look.

xxxx Lone Jack Steak Company Address: US Hwy. 95, Potlatch, Idaho Meals: steaks, seafood Prices: $8.95-$18.95 Days, hours: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5-10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: separate smoking section Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Checks: yes, with prior approval