Stoney River Legendary Steaks
1726 Galleria Blvd., Cool Springs. 778-0230
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 4-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Price range: $$$$
Consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest counties in the entire nation, Williamson County seemingly has it all: rolling hills dotted with lazily grazing cattle and finely bred horses, superior public schools, gated subdivisions, excellently maintained recreation areas catering to families and their legions of sports-playing offspring, pristinely landscaped office parks, historic attractions and a plethora of shopping and dining opportunities.
So it's surprising to think that, until a little over a year ago, steakhouse options south of the Davidson County line were limited to that ubiquitous beef purveyor, Outback. After all, where there's disposable income, there's usually an upscale steakhouse to be found somewhere nearby. So in hindsight, the arrival of Stoney River Legendary Steaks in Cool Springs seems writ in stone. At the very least, it was writ in the pages of two dining industry trade publications. In a recent issue of Chain Leaders magazine was this quote from Tony Halligan, one of the founders of the concept in 1996 and now VP: "When we started, we wanted a place where everyone could come and eat. We believed the suburbs were lacking a good steakhouse." And this from a story in Restaurants & Institutions: "O'Charley's is putting Stoney River units in upper-end suburban residential areas near major cities."
Say what? O'Charley's? That's right. In May 2000, O'Charley's, the Southeastern chain of casual-dining restaurants, acquired Stoney River Legendary Steaks, which at that time included the two original locations in the Atlanta suburbs and two more under development in the Chicago area's upper-end suburbs.
Could a Stoney River location in an upper-end suburban residential area near Nashville be far behind? Construction on the 8,000-square-foot, 230-seat, dinner-only steakhouse on Galleria Boulevard began in June 2002, with Stoney River opening its front door less than six months later. "We are very excited to open our first Tennessee restaurant in Williamson County," director of operations Rich May said at the time. "Cool Springs is the perfect fit for our concept, and we look forward to building long-lasting relationships with our guests there."
A recent Wednesday night at Stoney River offered proof that even if the honeymoon period is past, the restaurant and its patrons have settled into a pleasurable, harmonious and mutually satisfying relationship. And why not? Stoney River adheres to the vows it offers in its fetching proposal: "Fresh food and quality product carefully prepared, an experienced and accommodating staff, a warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere, at less than 'special occasion' pricing."
The multileveled wood and stone interior of Stoney Rivermeant to evoke upscale woodsy, mountain lodgesis indeed warm and comfortable, if a tad manufactured. Furnishings are solid and heavy, but with an elegance that softens their masculine bent; indirect, golden lighting lends a face-flattering, warm glow to the room. Noise control in the elevated dining areas on either side of the lounge-bar is achieved through thick carpeting on the floors and wooden blinds on the windows, which have the added benefit of blocking the un-lodge-like reality of the strip center parking lot outside. An open kitchennothing to hide heretakes up the back wall of the restaurant.
Stoney River offers reservations to parties of seven or more; smaller parties can get priority seating, meaning that if you call in advance, you'll be guaranteed a table within 30 minutes of your arrival. Though reservations for smaller parties would be preferable, the priority seating policy certainly worked on our visit, and we quickly passed the 25-minute wait in the cozy lounge.
The restaurant has thoughtfully combined its manageable but wide-ranging wine listwith more than 60 vintages available by the glasswithin the same leather-bound folder as the dining menu, which commences with appetizers and salads, then rolls out the "legendary steaks" before segueing into a listing of beef alternatives described as "gourmet entrées." Your server will also describe the evening's specials, which I suspect always include the spectacular crab cake, either as an appetizer or an entrée, portioned and priced accordingly. Though it costs nearly double the price of the crab spreadalso offered as an appetizerthe cake packs 10 times the palate-pleasing pleasure in its puck-sized portion. The other standout starter was the French lamb chops: baby chops broiled to a slight char and prettily fanned atop a tangle of addictive flash-fried tobacco onions, with a puddle of sweet demi-glace on the side for dipping. Traditionalists will be well satisfied with the jumbo steamed shrimp chilling on shaved ice with cocktail sauce.
Stoney River differs in a most affordable and consumer-friendly way from its upscale steakhouse competitorswhich adhere to entirely à la carte menus. Steaks here start at $16.95 for a 12-oz. center cut sirloin and top out at $31.95 for the Legendary Filet, a legend due to its 14-oz. heft. A potato side is included with every cut of beef; the spud lineup runs the gamut from steak fries to caramelized onion mashed potatoes. A side of mixed greens, Caesar salad or head of lettuce is available for $3.95. Our server kept the basket of signature "stone puppies"small, subtly sweet rolls dotted with poppy seeds and served with honey buttercoming as fast as we could pop them in our mouths.
Just as importantly, when it comes to quality, Stoney River can hold its own with the likes of Morton's and Fleming's. Of the five steaks we sampled, the Cowboy cut bone-in rib eye and the filet were adjudged the winners by my demanding and discriminating panel of beef lovers, but the sirloin, New York strip and rib eye were also excellent. According to the menu, all steaks are premium, grain-fed, Midwestern beef, aged in their own lockers and hand-cut from the center. Before grilling, the steaks are dry-rubbed with a top-secret blend of salt, lots of pepper, rosemary, garlic and other seasonings, which adds a delicious, locked-in flavor as well as a subtle crusting. Each steak was perfectly cooked to orderan assessment checked by the server before he or she leaves the table. How many times have you cut into a steak to discover that your medium filet is still bleeding, then had to wait 10 minutes to summon your server back to the table? That won't happen at Stoney River.
There are several options available to those who eschew red meat: a chicken and a pork entrée, and a half-dozen seafood selections. The much-touted Oriental-style steamed sea bass is dramatically presented in a silver-domed steamer, but it was all style and no substance. Centered among groupings of steamed vegetables and atop a mound of bland rice, it had all the flavor, texture and excitement of a hospital meal. Far better was the pecan-encrusted swordfish, finely complemented by garlic mashed potatoes.
With an upscale steakhouse settled happily within their borders, Williamson County residents have one less reason to drive to Nashville, which seems just the way they like it. To their great surprise, Nashville residents may find themselves one evening settled happily in a booth at Stoney River, cutting into a juicy rib eye with their suburban pals, wondering what it will take to get an affordably priced upscale steakhouse in their neck of the woods.