On an empty stretch of Panhandle highway between Dumas and Stinnett is a painted sign hanging from a post along a fence line. It’s faded just enough that you might wonder if the XXL Ranch and Steak House is long gone, but call the number there and you’ll get an answer from owner Charles Stephens or his wife, Linda.

If you haven’t made a reservation for dinner on Friday or Saturday, which are the only days they’re open, you’re likely out of luck getting a table. If you’re just calling because you don’t see a restaurant, you’re not alone. You can’t see much down the two-mile dirt road that leads to the place, and if the road is washed out from recent rains, Stephens will offer to pick you up from the small gravel parking area along Texas Highway 152.

Luckily, the rental car company had upgraded me to an SUV, so I had no problems. I simply followed the dust cloud from the pickup trucks headed to a fine steak dinner at 7 p.m. After a talk with Stephens a few days earlier about directions, I knew I was on the right track. If I had followed Google Maps on the hour-long drive north of Amarillo, I’d have taken the wrong dirt road that comes in from the east. The entrance from the north off of Highway 152 is the only way in, but still the wooden building that sits down a hill headed toward a dry creek bed snuck up on me through the dust.

I had made the reservations months before. Stephens saw my article on 4B Meats in Gruver, about thirty minutes north of the restaurant. Some of the 4B cattle even graze in the pastures that surround the restaurant. A few times a year, Stephens collects enough of their Wagyu beef to fill every plate in the restaurant with a steak. The day before Father’s Day was one of those times.

Stephens invited me via email, and I convinced my son it would be a fun trip. We were rewarded with a Wagyu strip steak cooked to a perfect medium rare and a tomahawk ribeye that would have been more than enough for both of us. The rest of what we ate is what you’d get every weekend, and it’s quite a deal.

Most of the reservation requests come to Stephens’s voicemail. When returning the calls every evening, he asks if everyone in the party wants the “XXL usual,” which is a choice-grade, locally raised, sixteen-ounce bone-in ribeye steak he sources from a meat market in nearby Spearman. “I just need to get an order from them if they want something different,” he said. Instead, he can offer grilled salmon, shrimp, or pork tenderloin glazed with his specialty jalapeño apricot sauce.

“I’ll do just about anything, but I don’t fool with chicken,” he said, noting the wood-fired grill in the tiny kitchen runs too hot. Besides the main course, every dinner includes a garden salad, a baked potato, garlic bread, a whole grilled jalapeño, and a hot link of sausage. Iced tea, dessert, and coffee also come with the measly $40 price tag per person (plus tip). The XXL (which is pronounced “Double-X-L” rather than “X-X-L,” though Stephens said most of his customers use the latter) takes only cash or check. Customers can bring in their own alcohol, but none is served at the restaurant.

Service is polite yet efficient, with Linda, Stephens’s wife, leading the waitstaff. She was a trainer for servers at Red Lobster a couple decades ago when the couple lived in Fort Worth. Now she tries to make everyone, even those of us from the big city, feel at home on the range. I had just laid my fork down from finishing my salad when the steaks and sides arrived. The butter and sour cream on the side of the baked potato are served in such generously sized scoops, my son thought they’d brought out an early bowl of ice cream. After enjoying the steaks, they brought out sopaipilla cheesecake—one of Linda’s rotating dessert specialties—along with a mug of coffee for me.

Linda and Charles Stephens.
Linda and Charles Stephens. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Every dinner includes a garden salad, a baked potato, garlic bread, a whole grilled jalapeño, and a hot link of sausage.
Every dinner includes a garden salad, a baked potato, garlic bread, a whole grilled jalapeño, and a hot link of sausage.
Left: Linda and Charles Stephens. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Top: Every dinner includes a garden salad, a baked potato, garlic bread, a whole grilled jalapeño, and a hot link of sausage.

We enjoyed the show in the open kitchen during our meal. Stephens dons an apron covering his overalls and white button-down shirt to juggle thirty to forty steaks a night over a raging oak fire. “The grill has been there for close to fifty years,” he said, and it’s one of the few things that remains just the way it came when he and Linda bought the place in 2007. The ranch had belonged to an old cowboy who called it the Flying X and used it for a catering operation for hunting parties and round-ups. For Stephens, the restaurant is something he does for fun on the weekends. His day job is what originally brought him to Dumas.

Stephens grew up all over Texas in foster care. He attended thirteen different schools in twelve years and graduated high school in Fort Worth. He became a welder, then a boilermaker, then a drug addict. After getting out of jail on drug charges in 1991, one of many trips for Stephens, he decided it was time to try sobriety. He has since self-published a few books on his recovery and shares his testimony at churches and prisons.

Before moving to Dumas or even thinking about running a restaurant, he was preaching at a little church in Wichita Falls while working on a construction crew building Highway 82. A man with a group seeking a director for a sober living facility and homeless shelter in Dumas saw his talk and asked him to interview for the position. Stephens had a job and wasn’t interested in quitting, but then the rain started.

“You can’t build a highway in the rain,” Stephens said. There was rain in the forecast for a week, so he visited Dumas to see the program. In July 2007, the facility offered him the job and matched his salary request, so he quit the highway job. They called the place the Refuge at Dumas and took over an old nursing home that had been condemned because of asbestos. They remediated and renovated and eventually opened in November of that year. Today, it is still the only facility of that type serving the 23 northernmost counties of the Texas Panhandle. “We serve everything above Amarillo,” Stephens said.

At first, Stephens went to live at the facility in Dumas while Linda stayed behind in Fort Worth. They needed a home together in Dumas and found the ranch twenty miles west of town. Some community members helped them purchase the place, and almost immediately the couple fired up the old grill and started serving steak dinners. Stephens admitted that “come the one-year anniversary, things were not going well” at the XXL Ranch and Steak House. They gathered some friends for a dinner and asked their advice. Choosing a signature steak, the lone option for most diners, was the solution, along with getting rid of the menu. Most every diner would get the same meal for the same price. “That turned everything around,” he said.

They’ve since added on to the kitchen and the dining rooms. Instead of seating just 24 diners, the XXL now has 64 seats. About 60 percent of the customers are regulars, but they get plenty of new folks from all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. When our meal was through, it was obvious why people make it a destination. My son put it best as we drove the dirt road back to the highway. “Really nice people, a really cool place, and really good food,” he said, counting each point on his fingers. “We should come back here.”