Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
2525 West End Ave. 342-0131
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Wed.; 5-11 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.
Got a hankering for a big hunk of red meat? When it comes to steakhouses, it's a veritable cattle call in Nashville these days. The expense-account crowd and other deep pockets favor the upper-end establishments like Morton's of Chicago downtown and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on West End. Traditionalists have sworn by family-owned Jimmy Kelly's for decades. Outback Steakhouse, the national chain with four locations in the Nashville area, offers a laid-back dining experience that has little to do with Australia but appeals to all-Americans from New England to New Mexico. The casual crowd and budget conscious can cut into a good deal and a hand-cut steak at Logan's Roadhouse and Santa Fe Cattle Co. And Nick Nikolaiczyk and Rudy Caduff, two food-service industry veterans, opened Nick & Rudy's Steakhouse on 21st Avenue this summer, offering a carefully executed slate of time-tested classics.
The new kid in townbut only until mid-month, when The Palm opens in Hilton Suites downtownis Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. One might wonder how it plans to carve a niche in this crowded marketplace.
There is no question that Fleming's founders know their steaks. Paul Fleming was once Ruth's Chris' largest franchisee, operating stores in California, Arizona, and Hawaii for 12 years. He is best known, however, for founding in 1993 the legendarily successful P.F. Chang's China Bistro (which opened its 42nd location in Nashville on Labor Day). The less publicized but no less experienced cofounder of Fleming's is Bill Allen, who has logged successful tenures in senior management positions with the Marriott Hotel Corporation, the Dallas-based La Madeleine French Bakery and Cafe, and Koo Koo Roo.
Launched in 1998 in Newport Beach, Calif., Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is not only the name of the restaurant but a precise description of its conceptone that was recently recognized by trade publication Nation's Restaurant News as a "Hot New Concept" award winner. As the name implies, Fleming's features USDA Prime beef with an extensive list of 100 wines by the glass (58 red, 42 white) as well as another, pricier list of more than 80 bottles. Like its upper-end brethren, the restaurant also offers seafood, veal, and lamb, and all are served à la carte with a wide selection of potato and vegetable side dishes. The only thing that comes gratis with your petit filet is a glass of water, a basket of bread, and steak sauce if requested.
Fleming's design is conceived to appeal to women, though not so soft that it frightens the typical steakhouse carnivore. While the initial journey through an office building, up an escalator, and past a security desk is a little bit chilly, the foyer of the restaurant, located directly above P.F. Chang's, is welcoming. As opposed to the men's-club look of Morton's and Ruth's Chris, Fleming's is outfitted in warm cherry wood, not the dark mahogany favored by many steakhouses. Comfortable chairs and spacious booths are upholstered in attractive cranberry leather; lighting is subdued but not dim, with beautiful alabaster fixtures overhead. Tables are nicely spaced for an un-crowded dining experience that allows for intimacy, yet the open dining areas contribute to a lively but not loud ambiance. Linens, silver, and china are weighty, but the wineglasses with oversized goblets and thin stems are several steps above your usual barware.
Fleming's also claims to differentiate itself from its competitors where it counts the most for many: the bottom line. According to the company's press information, the per-person check at Fleming's averages about $40 to $45, which it says is about $20 less than the average check at other steakhouses. Meanwhile, The Palm, in its press information, claims its average per-person check is $45 to $50. Looking at Morton's and The Palm's online menus and comparing them to Fleming's reveals that there are more similarities than differences in pricing at the three restaurants, with some items on each menu higher, and some lower, than the others.
I admit that I'm no math whiz, but I suspect these restaurants are using fuzzy math. Consider that a shrimp cocktail at Fleming's is $9.95, at Morton's it's $10.50, and at The Palm it's $12; a Caesar salad is $5.95, $5.50, or $6.50 at each respective restaurant; a N.Y. Strip is $26.95, $29.95, or $31; and a baked potato is $4.50, $4.25, or $4. By my calculations, even sharing an appetizer and a salad, the total check for this dinner is $39 at Fleming's, $42 at Morton's, and $44 at The Palm, just within what the restaurants claimbut minus so much as a beer or one glass of wine. I suspect that most customers at these restaurants have a cocktail or two; otherwise, they might as well go to Ponderosa.
It might very well be at the baror in the wine cellarwhere Fleming's offers a better deal. Diners who don't want to purchase a $74 bottle of Geyser Peak reserve cabernet, for example, can order from the extensive wine-by-the-glass list and opt for a $9.25 glass of Geyser Peak Sonoma County cabernet or an $8 glass of Rodney Strong. Also of merit are the helpful descriptions of the wines, with reds and whites categorized as light, dry, fruity, and/or moderate to full intensity.
So how was the experience at Fleming's? Overall, it was excellent, with the second visit better than the first. That had much to do with where we sat: On my first visit, we were seated at a table wedged beside a support column in a high-traffic area between the front dining room and the rear, across from the open kitchen. I really don't care to see the process, thank you, just the results. On my second visit, our service was friendlier and far more efficient and engaged than on the first.
Three different trials altogether allowed me to sample most of the appetizers, and I highly recommend the crispy buttermilk-dipped, bread-crumb-crusted onion rings, the Cajun barbecue shrimp, the spicy scallop sauté, and the jumbo lump-crab cocktail with a zesty rémoulade.
Who would guess that the simple iceberg salad would outshine its more sophisticated spinach and Caesar counterparts? At Fleming's it does, in large part due to the delicious bleu cheese dressing.
The sides are so large they require sharing. The huge pile of shoestring potatoes was light and golden, the Lyonnaise potatoes buttery, the mashed potatoes chunky and robust with garlic, and the sautéed mushrooms an earthy delight. The Fleming's potatoeschunks of potato with jalapeños, cream, and cheddar cheesewere too much of a few good things.
As for the meat of the matter? The steaks were juicy, succulent, and perfectly cooked to request. The filet was so tender it could have been cut with a plastic fork, the well-seasoned veal chop was more than an inch thick, and the pork chops were moist and tasty. The lobster tails were tender and sweet, and the grilled swordfish was the thickest, meatiest cut I have ever seen.
So if price were no objecta statement I rarely, if ever, get to usewhich steakhouse would I choose among Morton's, Ruth's Chris, and Fleming's? As a steak lover and wine aficionado, it would be Fleming's. It's a chain, but so are the others, and I find Fleming's the most inviting, with a product that more than measures up to its steakhouse predecessors. And unlike its older half-brother downstairs, it delivers what it promises.
Apologies to Fleming's Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's founder Paul Fleming, who was incorrectly identified in last week's review of P.F. Chang's.
The Atlanta Bread Company, another award-winning franchise restaurant, has opened in CoolSprings. One of Entrepreneur magazine's Top 30 New Franchises, the casual eatery was founded in 1993 and will number 120 stores by year's end. Open seven days a week, the 132-seat restaurant serves sandwiches, salads, soups, specialty coffees, and bakery sweets. One of its signature items is a soup meal served in a freshly baked sourdough bread bowl. Atlanta Bread Company is at 535 CoolSprings Blvd. Phone: 771-6464.
A veteran restaurateur and veteran chef are teaming up to open a new restaurant in CoolSprings this January. Bill Jayne, who worked in management positions at San Antonio Taco Company, Granite Falls, and Calhoun's before a stint as president of Rutledge Hill Press, will open Julia's of CoolSprings in Carothers Corner in January. He has hired chef Dave Bernstein, most recently of Magnolia's and also of Opryland Hotel and Arthur's. The menu, according to Jayne, will offer fine food at moderate prices, with all dishes available for takeout. The restaurant will seat 150 and will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Barney's Bar inside will present live jazz Thursday through Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to close.