In a consumer marketplace that embraces fast food, fast casual, upscale casual, corporate-run chains and menus that brag—as one particular Factory does—more than 200 items, Arthur’s Restaurant is a cultural anomaly. Flying in the face of all trends and market research, it remains committed to formality, a measured pace, impeccable service, tableside preparation (a true rarity) and a conservatively defined menu.
Servers—all male on the evening my party visited—are attired in tuxedos, tables garbed in thick cotton linens, food served on fine china and eaten with weighty silver cutlery. Women are treated as ladies, men as gentlemen, and I would imagine that children, once past the gates of propriety, would be expected to display their very best cotillion manners.
It is no wonder that, over the 26 years its doors have been open in Nashville, Arthur’s has expertly lent itself as a staging ground for countless celebrations and special occasions. Servers efficiently guide diners through the seven-course menu, posing just one decision: rack of lamb, filet, fish, poultry or game as your main course? The other six courses are determined either by the chef or by tradition—dessert is always Bananas Foster, prepared and set aflame tableside, as is the grand finale, Café Diablo.
It is this concept—predictable in execution, but offering some variety through seven courses—that appeals to many diners. Large parties enjoying a rehearsal dinner or masters of the universe striking a deal don’t want to waste time pondering a dozen different choices, nor do they have to nitpick over the check: everybody is charged the same price. Head-over-heels lovers barely have to break their canoodling; the service at Arthur’s is so subdued you won’t notice one plate being exchanged for the other as you gaze into one another’s eyes.
It is the foodie and the culinary adventurer who will have issues with Arthur’s. When I dine out, the rule of thumb is variety: no one at the table is allowed to order the same thing, and everyone is expected to pass their plate and share. So while everything we ate at Arthur’s was good and well-prepared—the wild mushroom soup in particular—it’s not the type of dining experience I would choose when I go out. When all was said and done, I was fed, but my palate was not satisfied.
Arthur’s Restaurant deserves all due respect for being one of a pioneering group of restaurants that came of age a generation ago, and for its consistency over 26 years of refined hospitality. Nashville’s newly diverse dining profile continues to evolve at a dramatic rate, as if making up for lost time. With just under two months left in its corner of Union Station, time is running out for Arthur’s as we know it. Time will tell if it will rise again.