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Texas Land & Cattle Company

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Warning : Especially if you live east of the Mississippi, eating at this restaurant may ruin your enjoyment of steakhouses back home. Because this is the best steak restaurant in America. Any steak lover owes it to themselves to make a pilgrimage to San Antonio just to eat here. It's worth it for the history alone. The Texas Land & Cattle Company was founded as a syndicate in Dundee, Scotland, in 1880, to gather money from wealthy British investors and use it for profit in the Texas cattle country. By 1883 TLCC controlled over a million acres of land comprising 13 ranches, with about half in the Panhandle and half between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. To coordinate operations they built a headquarters here on St Mary Street where owners, managers, lawyers, accountants and investors could gather. They created Alamo Bank on the first floor to handle finances, a restaurant and smoking lounge on the second floor, sleeping rooms (most reserved with owners' names on brass door plates) on several floors, and offices, meeting rooms and a billiards room on the top floor. During the winter of 1886-87 severe blizzards destroyed 75 per cent of TLCC's cattle. And Texas for the first time began taxing land.

British investors began selling their assets, and Texas ranching families, led by the Kings and Laurels, began buying up acreage. By 1910 the Texas Land & Cattle Company was formally ended as an investment corporation, and Texas ranchers bought the name, building and assets for a business and social club. They still had high standards for steak, however, and the members only restaurant took pride in serving the best anywhere. By 1993 other fine hotels were available and maintaining a private club no longer made economic sense, so TLCC leased their name to TXCC.Inc., which moved the restaurant to the basement, built a Riverwalk entrance and opened to the general public. In 1995 the ranchers leased the rest of the building to Drury, which remodelled the sleeping rooms into modern luxury hotel accommodations and replaced the bank with their main lobby although keeping the 50 foot ceilings, travertine flooring and stained glass windows (see bottom left). The restaurant became so popular it was bought On Jan. 28, 2004 by Lone Star Steak House Corporation, which today operates 28 TLCCs, most bigger than this one. But this is where it all began, and this is considered by critics the best of the chain.

Guests raised in one of the great cattle states take it for granted, but if you're from outside that zone, prepare for a thicker and larger steak than you're used to. The taste is different. We've brought students here and they're requested A-1, Worcestershire or other sauces. The waiter asks them to hold that request until they've taken their first three bites. After those three bites the student always admits the waiter was right; it would be a sacrilege to use sauce on one of these steaks. There's a reason for this. Most cattle today are raised on feedlots, confined to tight cages, artificially fattened with hormones, fed a steady diet of chemical mash with a little corn added. Open range cattle take longer to mature. They grow up eating natural grass, braving the weather, constantly moving. It's not as efficient as the factory assembly line method of raising cattle, but it sure produces a better tasting steak. The heart of the menu offers nine classic Texas steaks. We highly recommend their signature Hickory Smoked Sirloin. It's slow cooked, pepper crusted, and comes with a good soup and salad and garlic mashed potatoes. This is a big steak. You may have trouble finishing yours. We often have two people share an order. Sometimes women in our group order the Steakhouse Salad : mesquite grilled slices of sirloin with fresh mixed greens, diced tomatoes, red onion rings, blue cheese bits and tortilla strips. Again, this is a big salad. We often see people struggling to finish one.
Decor is Tasteful Texan. They moved the panoramic murals of ranching scenes down from the second floor smoking lounge. There are logs, saddles, branding irons, stirrups, boots, stars, lariats, and longhorn racks. After a day exploring in the heat, humidity and bright sun, the cool, dark atmosphere is welcome, but you can still get a window table with riverwalk view. The stone fireplace is not needed for heat, but they keep a flickering flame going for the ambience. TLCC handles large groups well; we've brought student groups in with no problems, but we ate early on a weeknight. On weekends, bring groups before 6:00.
To find the Texas Land & Cattle Company from the Crockett or Menger, take the Alamo Plaza descent through the Hyatt and turn right onto the Riverwalk. Follow the river around the bend and toward the Upriver Gate. The TLCC and Drury are the last building on your right just before the gate. We recommend you either eat early, around 5-6:00, or make reservations, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. And take the elevator up for a look at the old bank (seen at left), now the Drury lobby. If you walk around the restaurant, you can find several of the old TXCC branding irons hanging on the walls.
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