During our company's annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, we're always happy to spend an evening with our friends from Cambridge Audio who treat us to a nice dinner. To say that their choice of restaurants is interesting is an understatement. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not - such as the place we went to with them last year, Austin's Steakhouse in the somewhat sketchy Texas Palace casino. (Click here to see my entry on Austin's Steakhouse.) Not only was it a long drive to Austin's Steakhouse, the food was mediocre, at best. This year, they proposed taking us to a place that was even further away from our hotels on the Las Vegas Strip - Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House. With much trepidation and a little bit of grumbling, we drove 30 minutes north of our hotel at The Mirage to be treated to a meal at Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House.
Bob Taylor was born in California in the early 1920's. His father had wanted to open a small market in Los Angeles, but the Great Depression came and wiped out any hope for the family-run market. The Taylor family moved to Kansas City and opened a small family restaurant. His mother would bake pies in the early morning hours and they were so good that they were usually sold out of pie slices by 1 p.m. It was at the small restaurant that the young Bob Taylor got his first experience in the restaurant business.
The Taylor's eventually moved back to California, running small restaurants in Bakersfield, then in Ventura. World War II came around and Taylor served in the Army Air Corps as both a mechanic and as an armored gunner in airplanes. After the war, Taylor scraped together enough money to buy two properties - 80 acres of desert land north and west of Las Vegas, and a small get-away cabin in Jackson Hole, WY.
Bob Taylor became a master skeet shooter and hosted many friends to come out to his Nevada property - where he'd built a small ranch house - for shoots. After the shoots were over, Taylor would barbecue meat over mesquite wood that was abundant on the property. Coaxed by his friends to open a restaurant, Taylor turned the small ranch house he was living in into a restaurant/supper club, opening in September of 1955. Las Vegas' burgeoning tourist industry helped the initial growth of Bob Taylor's little supper club with people making the 20 mile drive out to have some of his steaks. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Elvis Presley and other Las Vegas casino performers loved to drive out to Bob Taylor's for a great meal and to get away from Vegas for a short time. Taylor expanded his steakhouse in the 1960's to its present day size.
For years, there was no telephone service to Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House. He didn't take reservations and the only way people knew he was open was if a blinking light on his sign was on. Taylor would tell his friends and good customers, "Come early or come late, but don't ever come at 8:00 p.m." I'm guessing that was when he was at his busiest.
Taylor was somewhat of a showman who once paid for a Chicago stockyards grand champion steer with a wheelbarrow full of silver dollars. During the filming of "Viva Las Vegas", in the scene in which Presley and Ann-Margret were shooting skeet, it was Bob Taylor off-camera breaking the clay targets with his shotgun. By the 1970's, Bob Taylor hosted one of the biggest trap shooting tournaments in the United States, hosting celebrities, pro football players, and the best trap shooters in the world.
The one constant at the Ranch House supper club was Bob Taylor. Nearly every night you would find Taylor cooking steaks over an open grill fired by mesquite, drinking Scotch and spitting ice cubes into the mesquite fire. However, as Taylor grew older - and after multiple divorces that yielded no children - he began to sell off the surrounding property and slow down his involvement in the restaurant. In 1980, Taylor sold the restaurant to the first of a handful of owners who went through management rather quickly. The food suffered greatly and the solid foundation of local customers and entertainers who patronized the restaurant in the 60's and 70's quit making the trek to the middle of the desert north and west of Las Vegas.
(Bob Taylor lived one day shy of his 88th birthday, passing away in March of 2010. He developed emphysema, possibly brought on by years of standing over mesquite fires cooking steaks. Between the time he sold the restaurant in 1980 and his death in 2010, he traveled the world with his wife, Dotti, hunting wild game in South Africa, seeing the sights of Europe and Australia, and taking an annual camping trip to a small bay in Northern Canada to salmon fish. Throughout the later years of his life he continued his love for cooking, even catering his own 85th birthday celebration in 2007.)
In 1983, Bob Ratner bought the restaurant and started to turn things around. With Las Vegas' outward expansion, business began to boom again with the restaurant serving upwards of 150 to 250 meals an evening. However that progress ended up hitting Ratner over the head. In the mid-90's, highway construction on nearby U.S. Highway 95 disrupted access to Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House. Business began to fall off dramatically and Ratner was forced to shut the restaurant in 1996.
Two young entrepreneurs - Jeff Special, who had a background in the restaurant business; and Steve Mikrut, who had no previous restaurant experience - bought the building and reopened Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House in October of 1997. They kept the same Western-style decor, even adding some Western artwork on the walls of the restaurant. Today, Jeff Special is the sole owner of the restaurant.
My colleagues are somewhat enamored with my built-in GPS superpower I possess, but on the trip from the Strip to Bob Taylor's, my inner GPS had a hiccup. It was because they were working on Nevada State Highway 215 and the exit I tried to take to double back to Bob Taylor's was closed. (Hmmm... Wasn't that a previous problem with people getting to Bob Taylor's?) However, with some backtracking and a couple of keen eyes we were able to pull up to the entry to the parking lot of Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House around the appointed hour of 7:30. (see map) One van load of colleagues had already shown up, the first of two loads of Cambridge Audio people were already disembarking in the parking lot as we pulled up. Five minutes later, the second load of Cambridge Audio people showed up. In all, there were 20 of us that evening.
After getting drinks at the bar and looking at some of the Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia on the walls (I'm guessing the owner must be a Steelers fan), we were taken into the somewhat Western-style, rustic dining room. High beamed ceilings were prominent in the front dining room, while the back part addition had a drop-ceiling with tile. A large fireplace was the prominent feature of the front dining room along with pictures, Western movie posters and other Western-style paraphernalia.
Before we were seated in the back dining room around three large tables, we had to pass the open grill at the front of the restaurant. The menu at Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House features steaks, ribs, pork chops, rack of lamb, seafood, and chicken entrees. They're famous for their 16 oz. tenderloin filets, their bone-in rib eyes and their 32 ounce "Diamond Jim Brady" New York strip.
Because of the size of the group, they decided to give us a fixed menu that evening. The choices were all fine - an 8 oz. filet, the 12 oz. New York strip, or the rack of lamb. With the filet came some grilled shrimp. Baked potatoes were offered as a side.
I was seated between two young ladies from Cambridge Audio - Emma, who grew up in Western Australia and was very familiar with good outback beef; and Rebecca, on her first trip to America and who grew up in Scotland in a family where everything was overcooked making sure there was no sign of life left in any meat. Emma ordered the New York strip - medium. Rebecca also ordered the New York strip - well done. I looked at her in horror almost with as much horror as she looked at me when I ordered my filet rare. She explained later on, "I just don't like the blood in the meat."
When we - meaning the North American guys in my company seated at the table - explained to her that the redness in the meat was not blood as it was the colored juice of the meat, she began to waffle a bit. My colleague, Ian, said, "You want to have some moisture in the meat. That's what makes the steak flavorful." Rebecca was beginning to get second thoughts at that point and it was somewhat serendipitous when our server came back out to the table to make sure she had the right orders for us. It was then that Rebecca changed her steak temperature from "well-done" to "medium-well". We felt it was a minor step forward in showing a young Brit visiting America for the first time the proper way to order a steak.
The wine list at Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House is pretty limited. I was asked by one of the guys from Cambridge Audio to pick out a red wine. About the only thing that I saw that I recognized and was familiar with was the Clos du Val Napa Valley cabernet. One of my colleagues concurred with me on the choice and they ordered bottles for the table.
Starting out the meal, we were served a small serving dish of grilled shrimp in a spicy cream sauce. It was actually very good. The cream sauce had a nice little bite to it and it went extremely well with the four or five grilled shrimp that were dunked inside.
A small dinner salad with their house dressing - a sort of creamy ranch dressing with a little pepper in it. The salad was actually pretty non-descript, but it was a nice preamble to the meal.
Our steaks showed up at the table and the tenderloin was accompanied with a couple three grilled shrimp, a baked potato and an onion ring garnish on top of a small green lettuce leaf. The presentation wasn't much, but it was pretty much similar to what you would find at most Midwestern supper club/steakhouses.
The New York strip also came with a baked potato and an onion ring/lettuce leaf garnish. This is my colleague Ian's New York strip cooked medium rare. Notice the large amount of juice on his plate. Rebecca's New York strip didn't have any of that juice on her plate.
The evening before, some of us in our company went out to dinner at The Steak House at Circus Circus. It's one of my all-time favorite steakhouses and it's turned into an annual treat for us when we get to Vegas. (Click here to see my entry on The Steak House.) I ordered a filet that night, as well - rare. It turned out to be more medium-rare than rare. However, the filet at Bob Taylor's Original Steakhouse was cooked perfectly for me. It had a deep red tint with a cool center. The steak was cooked nearly blue (almost completely rare), but it was very, very good. It was easy to cut, easy to chew and had great flavor both from the meat and the mesquite smoke. I was extremely happy with my cut of meat.
Everyone else at my table had the New York strip. From medium-rare to medium to medium-well, everyone raved about their steak. Even Rebecca was happy with the juicy nature of her medium-well steak. Too many times I've run into situations where the food suffers when there is a large party. But the grill cook at Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House had it down perfectly. It was a wonderful meal, much better than I anticipated or even hoped for. We all agreed it was worth the long trip out to Bob Taylor's.
Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House is the billed as the oldest restaurant in Las Vegas. Granted, a number of the old time Las Vegas supper clubs and steakhouses have given way to four star restaurants owned and operated by celebrity chefs from around the world. And while Bob Taylor's is no longer surrounded by miles of desert, it still offers a very good meal at a great price in a setting that hearkens back to the 50's and 60's. Even though it is a long way from the action in the heart of Las Vegas, I would have no problem making the 30 minute one-way trek to have another steak at Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House. Its "old-school" charm is a complete antithesis to the glitz and over-done glamour of Las Vegas.