Students of Arizona history have no doubt encountered the concept of the five C’s: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. These items were traditionally viewed as the pillars of the state’s economy. Their relevance has changed somewhat over the years. It might be argued that call centers and credit cards are more relevant C’s today, and climate may become more negative than positive if the worst predictions come true. Nevertheless, the five C’s are worth remembering. On the east side of Phoenix, the Stockyards is a reminder of the role of one of those C’s, cattle.
The Stockyards draws its name from the prior use of the land at its location. The site along Washington Street was indeed once home to the Tovrea Stockyards. The steakhouse itself was established in 1947. The actual stockyards disappeared in the 1950s, and the area is now home to Ability360, an organization that serves the needs of people with disabilities. The Ability360 Center was the prime reason for the recent construction of the 50th Street / Washington light rail station, but having a transit platform right in front of the Stockyards is an additional benefit.
The vintage building occupied by the steakhouse coexists with the more modern facilities of Ability 360 on one side and a mid-century bank branch that has been turned into offices on the other. Look for a cow on the roof to find the main entrance behind a lone saguaro. There’s a second entrance in back for the 1889 saloon, the attached bar that serves the steakhouse’s full menu in addition to its own happy hour specials. There is a bike rack, although it takes some effort to find it. Look inside the courtyard of some offices just east of the restaurant itself.
Inside, a comfortable waiting area by the host station is a testament to the restaurant’s classic origins. Leather furniture and cow hide rugs make it clear that this restaurant is all about beef. The dining area is broken into multiple chambers, with a back room devoted to private events. The restaurant has been renovated several times over seven decades. Despite the updates, the restaurant retains its old school feel, and the photographs and memorabilia on the walls celebrate local history. The 1889 saloon with its mahogany bar has an even more retro vibe.
The servers still wear black-and-white outfits, complete with vests to add a bit of old school formality to the dimly lit dining rooms. Meals typically begin with two complimentary items: a relish tray of crudites with dip and a basket of slightly sweet cornbread and airy biscuits. Those items can be filling enough, but it’s worthwhile to save room for an appetizer like the mushrooms Rockefeller. Sauteed mushrooms and spinach are topped with Bearnaise sauce and plated with garlic toast to use as an edible holder for the resulting mix of salty, earthy, and umami tastes.
The entrees, as expected, focus heavily on steak with different cuts of beef in varied portion sizes to accommodate myriad tastes and appetites. The filet mignon is the most supple and tender, while the ribeye and porterhouse have more pronounced beef flavor. The signature Arizona Cut is a generous 24-ounce bone-in ribeye. Shrimp, scallops, or lobster tails can be used to accessorize any of the steaks, and several seafood dishes such as skillet salmon, walleyed pike, shrimp scampi, and rainbow trout offer satisfying alternatives to beef entrees.
Although the heritage of the Stockyards is firmly rooted in domesticated cattle, the Stockyards also has some game meat on the menu. Elk medallions and wild boar and venison sausages provide a slightly more assertive taste than corn-fed beef. The Bison meatloaf with crisp onion rings on top and mashed potatoes beneath is the Stockyard’s take on a classic comfort food. Those onion rings and mashed potatoes are among the choices of sides included with most entrees. Mashed sweet potatoes and a parmesan potato stack are other worthwhile starches.
At lunch, most of the dinner menu is offered in smaller portions at reduced prices; however, there are also special sandwich and soup choices for each day of the week. These include sandwich options like pulled pork or a tuna melt and soups such as chicken tortilla or broccoli cheddar. Hewing to tradition, Friday focuses on fish with the soup being a New England clam chowder and fried fish available in either a sandwich or with chips. These can be ordered on their own or paired in a combination of half a sandwich with a cup of soup or a house salad.
The dessert menu includes timeless items like pecan pie, strawberry shortcake, and chocolate mousse. All are excellent, but the ancho chile brownie stands out as a distinctive choice with its fudge base topped with cinnamon ice cream, mexican chocolate sauce, and candied pepitas. It’s a mix of sweet and spicy notes with just a bit of heat. An ice cream float made with draft root beer can be augmented with Jack Daniels for an extra kick. Although the Stockyards is a family-friendly establishment with a children’s menu, this particular sweet is for adults only.
Of course, boozy desserts are not the only items to come from behind the swinging double doors of the 1889 saloon. The wine selection emphasizes a number of full-bodied reds to complement the steakhouse fare, and the bar has an extensive range of whiskeys available. The five C’s may not dominate Arizona’s economy as they once did, but they remain a part of the state’s history that every resident should be aware of. The Stockyards honors the traditions surrounding one of those C’s even if the actual cattle are no longer resident in the neighborhood.
5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix AZ 85034
50th Street / Washington Station