On our final night in Nashville, Brian from Lauten Audio was going to take my colleague, Ian, and me out for another dinner. After looking up the name of the place he was proposing - Wild Bill's Cajun Cafe - we found that most of the food was deep friend Southern-style food. I don't like to go hog wild with deep fried food and it appeared that nearly everything on the menu was deep fried. Ian made an executive decision and said, "You know, Brian took us out the last couple of nights. We should take him out tonight." And Ian knew exactly where he wanted to go - the Stock-Yard Restaurant, an elegant steak house north of the downtown area of Nashville.
Ian had eaten at the Stock-Yard in the past and said it was well above average for steaks. Well, this would be the fourth night in a row that I was having steak and I was getting a tad burned out on eating more beef. But Ian assured me that this would be on par or even above Merchants Restaurant or The Capitol Grill, two of the previous steak houses that we'd eaten at that week.
The Stock-Yard Restaurant is located in what was the old stockyard area of Nashville (see map). The building the restaurant is housed in opened in 1924 as the main office for the Nashville stockyards. The ornate building featured Italian marble and cherry wood in the main entrance area - the same as it is today. The Nashville stockyards was the main distribution point for cattle, sheep, hogs, horses and mules for most of Tennessee, Northern Alabama and Southern Kentucky. Cattlemen and pig farmers would come to the stockyards to sell their stock, but the main building for the stockyards was a luxurious destination for those men, as well. The main floor featured a saloon, a barber shop, a private gambling club, as well as a bank and a Western Union office. Offices were on the second floor of the restaurant, while the lower level was the area where farm animals were auctioned off.
For fifty years, the Nashville stockyards were an important cog in moving cattle and hogs in the Southeast. But as transportation and distribution hubs improved in the second part of the century, it became apparent that the Nashville stockyards were no longer needed. The stockyards eventually closed in 1974.
In 1979, the building reopened as a beautiful restaurant under the ownership of William D. "Buddy" Killen. If you're familiar with the music scene in Nashville in the 50's, 60's and 70's, there's a good chance you've heard the name of Buddy Killen. I had not and I was somewhat surprised to find out that he was a famous music publisher, songwriter, producer and musician who had worked with performers such as Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Roger Miller and Joe Tex.
Buddy Killen started out playing bass in a comedic group at the Grand Ole Opry. He worked as a session musician and songwriter in the 50's. He became involved with Tree Publishing which published songs that became country classics such as "Green Green Grass of Home", "Dang Me" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E". One other famous song that Tree Publishing published was "Heartbreak Hotel" which, of course, became a platinum selling hit for Elvis Presley. Killen was solely responsible for bringing that song to Tree Publishing.
Killen eventually became the owner of Tree Publishing in the 70's, growing it into the largest publishing house in the world with 13 offices worldwide. Sony/CBS bought out Tree Publishing in 1989 and Killen started a new company - The Killen Music Group - that published and recorded a diverse list of musical acts from country to rap to contemporary Christian music. Unfortunately, Killen died in 2006 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 73.
Killen's vision for the Stock-Yard Restaurant was to bring back some of the old time flair to Nashville. Killen used three levels of the restaurant for dining areas and brought back the old time bar area. The old shops on the main floor became dining rooms. The offices on the upper floor became large banquet rooms (pictured right) and the lower level where the auctions were held became private dining and banquet areas. A few years before Killen passed away, he sold his interest in the Stock-Yard to Charles Patel.
Being that the Stock-Yard Restaurant is only about a block away from the Cumberland River, the bottom level suffered severe damage during the great Nashville Flood of 2010. We were told the downstairs area is still not fully cleaned up and renovated yet, but they hoped to have it reopened by the end of the summer.
One of the great things about the Stock-Yard restaurant is that they offer free shuttle service between the restaurant and downtown hotels. Ian said that he had taken advantage of that in the past and suggested we do the same. I called over to the restaurant and made reservations for three at 6:30 that evening with a shuttle van to come pick us up at our hotel at 6:15. Brian met us at the hotel and we hopped in a Stock-Yard van for a short ride to the restaurant. Ample parking is available around the restaurant if you wish to drive, but having a van come to our hotel to pick us up and take us back was too good to pass up.
After checking in with the hostess at the front, we were taken down a long hallway on the main floor to a dining room back in the southwest corner of the building. The room we were in was probably an office of some sort years ago as it only had room for about five tables with four chairs each. Two other parties were in the room dining at the same time.
Our waiter came to the table to drop off menus and to introduce himself. For some reason, I could have sworn he said his name was Isaac, but according to the name on the bill, his name was Steven. Either way, Isaac/Steven was the guy who was going to take care of us that night.
Steak rules the menu at the Stock-Yard Restaurant. They specially cut their steaks, age them, then cook them over hickory charcoal for that great flavor. They had 11 different types of steaks to choose from on the menu (12, if you count the special they had that evening - a 16 oz. barrel cut filet). The restaurant also features a number of seafood entrees as well as chicken dishes and pork chops.
Ian looked through the extensive wine list and found a nice French wine that he thought we'd like. He ordered that up from Isaac, I mean, Steven, and then we were ready to order dinner.
I had been looking hard at the Filet Mignon au Poivre - a 10 oz. filet rolled in peppercorns and topped with a creamy madeira sauce infused with mushrooms. I asked Steven if there was a way that I could get the madeira/mushroom sauce with the 16 oz. barrel cut special they had that night. He said, "Absolutely, sir!" I ordered that rare.
Well, that got Ian thinking, as well. He said, "I'm intrigued by this barrel cut steak, too. What exactly is a barrel cut?"
Steven explained that it was a nearly round cut that they have from the tenderloin, taking most of the outer layer off the meat to make it look like a little barrel of steak. They had a 10 oz. barrel cut on the menu, but the 16 oz. was the special that evening. Ian ordered that with the au Poivre sauce and got his medium-rare.
Not to upset the apple cart, Brian also ordered the 16 oz. barrel cut with the au Poivre sauce. "Not to be a copy cat, guys," he apologized. "But that just sounds damn good!"
For starters, we ordered some of the calamari and an order of escargot in a garlic butter sauce with homemade croutons. I wanted a salad with that, so I ordered the iceberg wedge salad. Ian ordered up a Caesar Salad and Brian passed on the greens, concentrating only on the seafood appetizers. A number of large sides are available with the dinners including mac and cheese, sauteed mushrooms, 1 lb. loaded baked potatoes (that could probably feed three people), creamy spinach with crispy shallots, and asparagus with a hollandaise sauce. We settled on two sides - the sauteed green beans with red peppers, and their famous five cheese potatoes au gratin. We were set.
The appetizers came out and the escargot was extraordinarily great. The butter garlic sauce was just so sinfully good that I was taking some of the homemade bread that Steven brought to the table and was soaking up the sauce from the serving bowl. The calamari was excellent, as well. I usually like to dip my calamari in some marinara sauce, but it was so good on its own that it didn't need anything to go with it.
My iceberg wedge came out next. It was a large wedge of lettuce topped with large chunks of hickory smoked bacon, and a creamy bleu cheese dressing with large chunks of bleu cheese. It was also excellent.
By now, you've probably noticed that I don't have any pictures of the food. The room was very dark and the only way that I could get a shot of the food was if I used my flash on my camera phone. The only problem was that it was too bright for good shots, and it disturbed people sitting around us. I thought I'd just do my best in trying to describe what I was eating that evening.
After a bit, our steaks came to the table. The steaks were coated with a thick layer of cracked black peppercorns and swimming in the creamy madeira sauce with large chunks of fresh mushrooms. Now I wish I would have gotten a picture of my steak because it looked great. And it tasted even better. The center of my steak was a cool red and tender as all get out. The peppercorns gave the steak a nice zippy taste and the sauce and mushrooms were an excellent taste combo with the beef. It was just an excellent, excellent steak.
I also have to say the sides were very good, too. I like sauteed green beans and the ones at the Stock-Yard Restaurant were top notch. They were fully cooked, yet still had that little "snap" to them when you bit in. And the 5 cheese potatoes au gratin - oh man! Those things were so great, but - oh! - so rich. I could only eat a couple bites of the potatoes or I would have blown up.
I didn't think that I could eat another bite until Steven showed up with the dessert tray. I about got up and punched him. Between the appetizers, the wedge salad, the 16 oz. steak WITH the madeira sauce and mushrooms, and the bites of the green beans and the potatoes au gratin, I was stuffed. However, Ian kept hounding me, knowing my penchant for a good Key Lime pie. He kept egging me on and I kept saying, "No!" Finally, he ordered a piece of the Key Lime pie fully knowing that I'd have a couple bites, and a piece of the Southern pecan pie. Brian wanted the pecan pie more than the Key Lime slice. And since it was still rather early - around 8:30 - I ordered an espresso, something I rarely get. I don't drink coffee or many caffeinated beverages any longer, but I do like an espresso or cappuccino from time to time after a good meal. But if its too late it keeps me up from the caffeine buzz.
I did have a couple bites of the Key Lime pie and it was, also, very good. And, of course, very rich. I just wanted to stop and burst on the spot.
When we were finished with the meal, Steven arranged for transportation back to our hotel. We were talking with the driver on the way back and I asked him about the free transportation the Stock-Yard provides. He said, "We started doing it a few years ago when some of the big name national steak houses (Morton's, Ruth's Chris, The Palm) came to town. They are all downtown and it's sort of a walk from there to here. So we provide the free shuttle service. It really helps our business."
The shuttle driver exclaimed, "That, too! I seem to take a lot of drunk people back to the hotels after dinner."
We ate at some very fine steak houses during our time in Nashville and it would be difficult to say which one of the three good ones were the best out of Merchants, The Capitol Grill or the Stock-Yard Restaurant. Each had excellent food. They all had great wine lists. The service was top notch. But for some reason, I liked the Stock-Yard the best for the overall quality of appetizers, salad and steaks. The service was also top-notch. It was off the beaten path, but was a great find on Ian's part. I don't know when we'll be back to Nashville, but if we're there for more than a couple days, the Stock-Yard has to be high on the list to return to. (Photo courtesy of infousa.com)
(Update - At the end of June in 2015, the Stock-Yard closed after the building was bought by some developers from North Carolina who planned on turning the 3.3 acres the restaurant and surrounding land sat into high-end apartments and condos.)