During my trip to Nashville for the 2011 Summer NAMM show, my colleague, Ian, and I were invited to dinner by Brian Loudenslager, the founder and president of Lauten Audio, makers of high quality microphones for the professional music industry. Brian picked out the place and it was a good one - the Capitol Grill inside the historic and prestigious Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville (see map).
When I found out we were going to eat at the Capitol Grill, I immediately looked up the restaurant on the Internet. Not seeing the subtle difference in spelling (Capitol versus Capital) I went to the web site for the Capital Grille chain of upscale steakhouses. I had never been to a Capital Grille restaurant and I was sort of excited to finally eat at one. However, when I was trying to find the Nashville location on their web site, I was surprised to see that it was not listed. That's when I figured out that the Capitol Grill in Nashville is not connected with the Capital Grille chain.
The Capitol Grill in Nashville takes its name from the state capitol building in Nashville, located just a stone's throw from the restaurant. The Hermitage Hotel, which houses, the Capitol Grill, is one of the finest hotels in the south. First opened in 1910, the Hermitage has hosted politicians, famous actors, and the elite of the country music scene over the past 100 years. By the late 1990's, however, the hotel was tired and in need of some TLC. In 2000, a group calling themselves Historic Hotels of Nashville bought the property and went head to toe in redesigning and updating rooms and the other amenities of the hotel. Gone was the old Hermitage Grill and in came the Capitol Grill. They also updated the bar area of the place - simply called the Oak Bar. In 2003, the Hermitage reopened and it was soon awarded five stars by both AAA and Forbes Travel Guide for the comfort, technology and luxury each room offers.
Tyler Brown (left) is the executive chef at the Capitol Grill. His nickname is "Farmer Brown" as he uses a number of locally grown, farm fresh foods and ingredients in his work. Brown is a 1997 magna cum laude graduate from Johnson and Wales University's School of Culinary Arts in Charleston, SC. His first job was at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC, before moving on to the Fearrington House in Chapel Hill, NC. He then became a partner and executive chef at Southern Comforts BBQ and Soul, an upscale comfort food restaurant in Charlotte, NC.
After the Capitol Grill opened in 2003, he was named the chef de cuisine at the restaurant working under the nationally recognized chef Sean Brock. Brock was the executive chef at the Peninsula Grill and hired Brown directly out of school. Brock stuck around for three years at the Capitol Grill before moving on to become the executive chef at the newly renovated McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston, SC, leaving the Capitol Grill in Tyler Brown's capable hands.
The Capitol Grill does have a sister restaurant out in Cheyenne, Wyoming, of all places. The Cheyenne Capitol Grill is located in the historic Plains Hotel in Cheyenne. Similar to its Nashville location, the Capitol Grill in Cheyenne specializes in what they call Western High Style cuisine with many of the foods on the menu locally grown. It's easily one of the finest restaurants in the whole state of Wyoming.
We met Brian in the outer lobby of the Hermitage Hotel around 7:30 and walked down a flight of stairs into the spacious dining room of the Capitol Grill. We were seating at a table toward the back corner, not far from the kitchen. The dining room was elegant with soft lighting from sconces and antique lamps. The chair backs were a woven pattern and rich to the touch. Small lamps sat a top the sturdy tables covered with thick white tablecloths. I was immediately impressed with the place and knew it wouldn't be a cheap meal.
We were given menus and Ian took a gander at the extensive wine list the Capitol Grill has to offer. Many of the vegetables the restaurant has to offer comes from the Farm at Glen Leven, a historic site that is maintained by the Land Trust for Tennessee. In 2010, the Land Trust allowed Tyler Brown to use some of the land as a garden growing heirloom tomatoes, potatoes (lots of potatoes!), squash, watermelon and other food items that he uses in his kitchen at the Capitol Grill. Brown even maintains much of the growing plants at the farm and will expand the land use for honey bees and has just begun to raise cattle at the farm for his own fresh beef.
While the menu isn't extensive, it is interesting with a handful of items such as roasted chicken and roasted domestic lamb, a grouper fish with something called butterbean chow chow and cucumber dashi on the side, as well as a vegetarian plate that featured Glen Leven-raised veggies with artichokes covered in a curry emulsion. Of course, there were steaks on the menu and that's sort of what all three of us were looking at getting.
Ian is much better versed in French and Italian wines than I and he picked out a bottle of the French Cote de Nuits Villages burgundy. Actually, that is one of the few French wines I'm somewhat familiar with and it is very good.
Each of us ended up getting a steak - I got the Painted Hills ribeye. It's a 16 oz. cut of naturally grown beef from Oregon. Of course, I ordered mine rare. Brian got the 10 oz. Painted Hills filet and Ian got the ribeye. The sides at the Capitol Grill come family style so more than one person can enjoy them. We ordered some of the truffles with mac and cheese, peas and cornbread, and fingerling potatoes confit to go with our meals.
For starters, Brian and I both got the Hunter's Plate - a mix of smoked and pickled foods including meats and vegetables. Ian, as always, got the Caesar Salad.
Before our food began to show up, I excused myself and went to the men's restroom. On the outside of the restroom, there was this plaque (pictured below) that touted the men's room as being rather unique. During the renovation at the hotel in 2003, the men's room was remodeled to be nearly the same as it was back in the 1930's.
Inside, the black and green color scheme accented the decor with art deco lighting and fixtures in the bathroom. Women are encouraged to take a look inside the men's room and as I was washing my hands after using the facilities, a man with a thick German accent yelled in the door, " 'allo? Anybody in zere?" I let him know that I was in there and he came in and said, "You donze mind if I bringz my vife in zere, do you? I vantz to getz a picturez of herz in ze menz roomz."
I said, "As long as I can get a picture of her, too."
He said, "No, go rightz aheadz!" So, that's the picture of the German guys wife in the men's room at the Hermitage Hotel above right.
Ian's salad and Brian's and my Hunter's Plate come out to the table not long after I returned. The Hunter's Plate had a mix of ham's, prosciutto and salami, along with small containers of pickled vegetable confit and some lettuce greens on the side with some pickled onions on top. Grilled homemade bread came with the plate and I have to say that it was very good. It was light, yet had a great taste to the smoked and cured meats. Brian was more than impressed with the Hunter's Plate. "It's like they just took the meat out of the smokehouse," he said.
Time marched on into the night after we finished our first courses. Not knowing Brian very well (we met for the first time that evening) and trying to learn about his product made the time pass rather easily. But after awhile, we noticed that it was getting close to 9 p.m. and our steaks had not shown up. It wasn't long after that that our waiter came up and apologized for the delay in our meals. A couple large parties where in the restaurant (including a large table of loud and somewhat obnoxious women seated not far from our table) and they were getting behind in the kitchen. We told them that we understood, but that we were getting pretty hungry.
Our food finally made it to the table and this is my ribeye served in a small cast iron dish. A cream sauce was on top and it was laying in it's own juices. From the first bite, I was in ecstasy. The steak was juicy, tender and overly flavorful. It was cooked exactly as I wanted, red rare. It was a large steak that had a lot of marbling in it, so the taste was exquisite.
Brian and Ian were both impressed with their steaks. Brain's filet was literally falling apart with each stroke of his knife. Ian said that his steak was even better than the ribeye he got at Merchants Restaurant the night before. "And that was a great steak at Merchants, too" Ian exclaimed.
The sides were also very good. I did get a hint of a truffle taste with the truffle, mac and cheese. I'm not big on peas or cornbread, but it's a good Southern dish that Brian wanted to try. He said the bread were wonderful and the peas were cooked perfectly. I tried a couple three bites of the fingerling potatoes confit - basically mashed potatoes. And they were pretty good, as well. The truffles with mac and cheese was a big hit at the table.
After we finished our meal, the restaurants manager, a very petite young lady named Hannah, came by to apologize for the delay in our meal. She offered each of us free dessert and coffee, but I was so stuffed from the huge steak that there was no way I could eat anything else. Brian and Ian were in the same boat and we declined her offer. When the bill was brought out, Brian picked it up and Hannah came over to explain that she had directed our waiter to take 15% off the price of the meal for being so late in coming to the table. That was a generous token on her part for something that really didn't detract from the meal.
The Capitol Grill isn't overly cheap, but if you want to get a great meal in a great setting with great service in Nashville, it's going to be tough to find a place finer. Just going for a drink at the Oak Bar and then stealing a quick look at the men's room would still be enough for most people to try. The Capitol Grill was one of the finest dining experiences I've enjoyed over the past few years.