Benton Lee’s Steakhouse
There are steakhouses, and then there’s Benton Lee’s. I have discovered the place to eat meat in South Georgia, y’all. If you’re looking for a good steak, stop your search right now and hop in your car for a drive through the country. Known for it’s large portions and family-centered atmosphere, the restaurant, with its wide front porch and back deck, overlooks the Altamaha River. For many reading this though, it won’t be a surprise. The locals of this community have enjoyed Benton Lee’s Steakhouse for 48 years.
My good lookin’ husband, Kurt, and I drove over to the restaurant from Claxton, Georgia on a Friday night, just in time to catch the sunset.
We ordered gator nuggets to start, because that’s what you do when you live in The Fruitcake Capital of the World and no restaurant within a 30-mile radius has it on the menu. Much to my dismay, the gator served at Benton Lee’s is not wrestled and caught from the muddy waters of the Altamaha (ha!), but sourced from a gator farm in Odom, Georgia about 300 miles away. Gator has a tough and chewy consistency, but everyone should try it once. Our server said he liked it better than chicken, but I’ll stick with poultry (spoken like a true resident of Evans County).
The straightforward menu features steaks of all cuts and sizes, plus seafood–shrimp, oysters and catfish–chicken tenders and wild game like quail, gator and frog legs. Staples including hamburger steak, pork chops and chef salad also are available. We ordered the Sirloin for Two: each serving is individually cooked and is at least 12 ounces. In the causal atmosphere, tea and water are self-serve.
The hand-cut fries are perfectly salted and crunchy. My steak was cooked to a medium temperature, juicy and just right. Tender and warm from the grill, the steak melts in your mouth. Beautiful grill marks make an appetizing presentation, and a standard salad and roll round out the meal. I am told that once upon a time Benton Lee’s Steakhouse hosted a competition where if you ate six pounds worth of beef, you would get it for free. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do this.
The patrons at Benton Lee’s Steakhouse are the same folks you see on the church pew Sunday morning, the moms of the elementary school drop-off line and dads of the community ball field. They’re Southern folks that do life together, that appreciate a good slab of beef when they see it. This is not an audience concerned about locally sourced ingredients, a five star plate presentation, house-made sauces or compound butters. They’re not seeking white tablecloths or organic produce, just a place they can go with the family in tow for a hearty meal and a break from cooking themselves. Down home, friendly and no nonsense. My kind of place!
Celebrity guests have included country music sensation Travis Tritt, the late actress Donna Douglas (a.k.a Ellie May Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies TV Show), Troy and Jacob Landry from the History Channel’s Swamp People and Duck Dynasty’s Si Robertson. It doesn’t get more country than that, folks!
The walls contain an eclectic mix of taxidermy and farm equipment familiar to the South Georgia region. An antique hand mixer and some old Coca-Cola bottles decorated the shelf above our table. Every booth and table in the restaurant houses everything you need – paper towels, salt & pepper, ketchup, steak sauces and hot sauce. A well-lit jukebox stands near the doorway. Attentive servers wear bright pink t-shirts displaying the “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden Flag.
A sign posted on the front porch of the property sums up the philosophy of Benton Lee’s well. Come hungry and come as you are.
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Georgia native Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a freelance writer, entertainer and food enthusiast who writes and speaks about her love of good food and the Coastal South. A Season 2 Contestant on ABC’s “The Taste,” she is the former Statesboro Herald food columnist and past host of the television program “Statesboro Cooks.” From 2012 – ’14, she appeared regularly as Celebrity Chef at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers’ Market and wrote as a guest blogger for Visit Savannah and The Local Palate. In addition, her work is published in Moments magazine and Connect Statesboro. Her culinary accomplishments are recognized in two publications: She is a featured alumna in Georgia Southern Magazine (Spring ’14) and the “Go Girl!” in Moments magazine (March 2104), a tabloid for moms and modern women. To learn more, visit RebekahFaulk.wix.com/RebekahFaulk.