Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge
Tim and Deb Holzfaster, Owners
123 N. Oak St.
Paxton, NE 69155
(308) 239-4500 Steakhouse
(308) 239-4719 Office
This taste tall tale begins in Paxton
Western Nebraska is a place where life can be as rugged as its untouched terrain. A part of the world where cowboys continue to break wild horses and cattle ranches appear more frequently than towns. People thrive in a place where fertile farmland slowly transitions into the rolling Sandhills. A place where great stories are made. Outdoor adventure seekers come to this area for prime hunting and fishing, and, at the end of the day, they share their stories over a cold beer and a fat steak. As the evening progresses, the stories get bigger. This is where many tall tales begin.
I like to think these stories are swapped in a place with as much character as the adventures themselves. A place that caters to outdoorsmen and nourishes them with a good meal at a fair price. A place where you can speak about your kill or your catch in the company of people who won’t second guess the details of your story.
A place like Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge
We stopped in Paxton, Neb., en route to tour Lake McConaughy and the Kingsley Dam. This little town of 523 people was already on our radar because of a restaurant that has a reputation far bigger than the town itself. I managed to score an Ole’s brochure at a truck stop and a tag line reading, “Try a buffalo steak, with an elephant looking over your shoulder” only added to my interest. I didn’t quite know what to expect.
A step back in time
When you step into Ole’s, you are stepping back in time. The restaurant continues to operate under the name of its founder, Rosser “Ole” Herstedt, a Paxton native who loved hunting and hospitality and opened this bar the day after Prohibition ended: at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1933, to be exact. With one step, you are in a true hunting lodge. You are greeted by a gigantic snow white polar bear, forever frozen in a permanent pose in a glass box. Its looming arctic presence was captivating and it wasn’t until the friendly hostess greeted us with a smile and a “Welcome to Ole’s” that my trance broke. The old plank floors creaked as we passed by countless mounted hunting trophies which hovered over booths and tables filled with happy customers.
Once we arrived at our table, I took the opportunity to take in my surroundings. The brochure didn’t lie; I was looking in the eyes of an elephant jetting out of the wall across from our table. It was accompanied by the busts of other animals — elk, gazelle, deer — and for a moment I felt as if I was the prey. The part of the walls not covered in hunting trophies made way for old photos and memorabilia of expeditions and world-wide safaris from years past.
You may think the hunting motif could be over the top and oppressive but somehow it works. It’s a well-curated collection and you find yourself wondering about the stories that accompany the artifacts. Suddenly, I wished I had a big story to tell.
Menu brings diners back for past six decades
The friendly waitress arrived at our table sporting a warm smile and an Ole’s polo shirt. She knew the menu well and rattled off a daily special that seemed so good, it must be one of the reasons people have been coming to this place for six decades. I took her advice and ordered the chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. My fellow diners decided upon a classic Rueben and an Ole’s Melt. Since a long road trip was still ahead of us, we opted to skip an appetizer, yet they looked good enough to plan a repeat visit around. The spicy pub pickles and homemade potato chips were identified as favorites and if I were ever going to order Rocky Mountain oysters and chicken gizzards, this is the place I would want to prepare them.
The menu was impressive and as well thought out as the décor. Ole’s offers a hearty breakfast, an array of classic sandwiches and burgers with an original flair, and a prime steak selection that utilizes locally sourced products provided by Hehnke’s Food Store and Meat Market, a Paxton business that has been operating for more than three generations. Small town businesses helping each other out … no wonder I liked this place.
Before we could dissect the dessert offerings on the menu, our food arrived. Even though the restaurant was bustling at noontime, our food was prepared and delivered in a quick manner.
As the plate was set down in front of me, one word came to mind: epic.
The Best in the West claim prevails
The menu describes the chicken fried steak as “The Best in the West” and I would have to agree. The breaded steak was fried to perfection, crispy and topped with made in-house country gravy. The mashed potatoes were light and fluffy and were a nice compliment to the hearty steak. A side of green beans sautéed with bacon accompanied my daily special as well as a homemade dinner roll with a cold pad of butter. Before I dug in, I snapped a photo of my plate to document what I think of as the quintessential Nebraska meal; wholesome food made with love.
The Rueben was prepared to pay tribute to the sandwich’s original Omaha roots. The Swiss cheese melted over the corned beef, sauerkraut and 1000 Island Dressing, all neatly tucked between two slices of perfectly grilled marble rye. A thoughtful interpretation of a true classic.
The Ole’s Melt needed no explanation because these burgers have won awards in the Nebraska Beef Council’s “Best Burger in the State” contest. Again, Swiss cheese and grilled marble rye paired with fresh ingredients made a winning dish.
As our plates rotated around the table for sampling, we agreed this is what happens when a restaurant is well managed and thought is put into the image, the staff and, most importantly, the food. People drive for great distances to dine at Ole’s and its proximity to Interstate 80 is why travelers methodically plan out their route in order to stop at this one-of-a-kind steakhouse and lounge as they make their way across our great state.
Meal earns its own tall tale
The current owners, Tim and Deb Holzfaster, have worked at great length to usher this classic into the next generation. The lounge was expanded to include a steakhouse. A banquet facility seating up to 250 guests is an excellent way to highlight Ole’s 200+ mounted trophies. Along with catering and private parties, Ole’s continues to offer a full service bar that is a perfect place to belly up, order a cold one and swap stories with the best of them.
As I recall my lunch at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge, I find that my stories begin to resemble those tall tales told by hunters who patronize this place. With every retelling, that polar bear gets bigger and I find I use two hands to describe the size of my plate. The amazing thing about Ole’s is your experience there is rooted in a bit of fantasy. Much like being on an expedition or safari, Ole’s allows you to take home a story that is truly extraordinary.
Now…if I could only mount that chicken fried steak on my wall at home.