CORNELIUS – After two months in operation, the Cowboy Steak, Chicken and Ribs restaurant is meeting the lofty expectations veteran restaurateur and businessman Joe Douglas set for his new venture.

Douglas, who operates the 131 Main restaurants – including the one across Bailey Road from Cowboy – and was involved in the development of the local Tenders establishment that evolved into the model for the PDQ chicken restaurant chain, set out to create a “fast casual” first-rate dining experience in the Lake Norman region. And since Cowboy opened in March, Douglas said customers have embraced the concept.

“I think the restaurant has developed to fit our vision,” Douglas said. “Everything is fresh, nothing frozen, and it features good food served in a welcoming and comfortable environment.”

Cowboy doesn’t specialize in “fast food,” but it does deliver a quality assortment of fine food quickly. Customers order at the counter, and by the time their group fixes drinks and settles in at one of Cowboy’s large community tables – or at an umbrella-shaded spot on the patio – restaurant staffers are nearly ready to deliver items still simmering from the wood-fired grill and kitchen.

The choices range from the Big Blue salad, featuring kale, goat cheese, berries and beets, to a custom-cooked ribeye steak, from 10-14 ounces served with all the usual trimmings.

As the restaurant’s down-to-the-basics name implies, beef, chicken and ribs are the specialties, but there’s nothing commonplace about the Cowboy menu. A popular lunch item is the BBQ Brisket Taco dinner, which includes two smoked-brisket tacos topped with a blend of cheeses, creamy slaw, pickled red onions and a house-made peach habanero sauce.

A big beef fan seeking just a little bit more can opt for the brisket plate, featuring slabs of dry-rubbed and smoked meat accompanied by a few side items off a list that includes Mexican street corn salad, Brunswick stew, collard greens and macaroni and cheese.

Different size orders of beef ribs are on the menu at Cowboy. And the option of tempura fried or rotisserie chicken – again with presentation choices ranging from tacos to platters with full servings of side dishes – are available.

“The plan was to create a fast-casual concept designed to meet just about everyone’s needs,” Douglas said. “And that’s what we’ve done. I’m happy with the way it has developed.”

A few extra touches

In addition to the entree menu, Cowboy has a built-in bakery offering breads, pies, cookies and even some eat-in or take-home servings of banana pudding. The restaurant also has popular regional soft drinks and wine along with a beer selection that includes varieties from local breweries Ass Clown, D9 and Primal available in pints or pitchers.

For the younger crowd, or just those seeking a different type of frosty beverage, milkshakes and pressed juices are also among the drinks available.

“It’s a great place for families,” Douglas said. “Something for everybody.”

The family atmosphere is evident in the main dining area where large tables invite a community-type gathering. A selection of sauces at every table adds to the home-like environment.

And for those who want to pick up some Cowboy cooking to take back to their house, there is a full menu of “party-pack” items ranging from whole beef tenderloin to chocolate chip cookies. Douglas said the call-ahead and pick-up aspect of the restaurant was always planned as a primary feature, but he added that for fully catered events, the restaurant staff still needs at least 24-hours notice.

The first venture at site

Cowboy is located in the northeast corner of the Bailey Road at U.S. 21 intersection, across Bailey from the commercial complex anchored by 131 Main. Douglas owns the property around Cowboy and is planning additional development on the site.

He said a building providing a variety of office space options is planned next on the space around the restaurant.

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