This is a review of a restaurant based on a free evening for invited bloggers. I did not pay for any of the food or drinks mentioned. I also received a wine gift pack at the conclusion of the evening.
Late last week I got an email from @Vasilicious asking me to attend a “complimentary wine and appetizer tasting at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Woodmere”. The very first thing I did was squee a whole lot over my very first invite from my blog. Seriously people, never in a million years did I think I would get an invite through this blog. I don’t post here to get anything in return, and honestly I was super-flattered just for the invite because it means my little old blog has readers! I don’t claim to be a food writer, as my category tag says I am a foodie wanna-be, so I was excited and even nervous about the prospect of going.
Anyway, the second thing I did was Google Fleming’s because I had never heard of it. In all honesty when I realized it was a chain my heart sank a little. If you know me in real life you know I am an independent restaurant snob. Every place I have ever talked about on this blog is a locally-owned restaurant. I always recommend a local independent when asked where to go and even though it’s close to my house I had never even noticed Fleming’s. So I mulled the invitation over the weekend, with the new Blog With Integrity movement and “swine of swag” BlogHer09 talk in the back of my mind. Come Monday I responded to Amanda with a yes because I knew I would give an honest review, no matter what happened – and it is possible for chains to have good food. I also asked her if I could bring a friend along because I am shy and had no idea what to expect. So my very outgoing boss/friend joined me for the evening. And frankly I am so happy I went.
Fleming’s has a happy hour menu titled “5 for $6 ’til 7” and that is what we would be sampling. When we arrived they had an area of their patio set up for us and Cliff Cravens, Operating Partner was there to greet us and set us up with drinks. My impression of the inside happened very fast as we were whisked out to the patio quickly. It seemed typical steakhouse – dark woods, cozy atmosphere, polished bar. The patio is a small area overlooking the ETON Chagrin Boulevard parking lot and includes a few cushy outdoor couches around a fire pit along with a handful of linen draped tables. Despite being next to the parking lot the space is surprisingly intimate thanks to being tucked into the corner of the shopping center and the big black market umbrellas.
As others arrived I was excited to meet new bloggers and put a face with a blog I already knew. I met Amanda, Tom, Kelly and José, and the folks from Cleveland Sandwich Board. I was also happy to finally introduce myself to Tricia (and her husband and sister-in-law) – the woman who has awesome giveaways on her blog. Drinks were ordered and chatting commenced. It was funny to watch Sue, who is pretty foreign to the world and vernacular of blogs and twitter try to make sense of it all. She and I both had a Basil Lemon Drop which was delicious – much like a mojito but with a lemon flavor. The basil added a great aroma and cut the sweetness of the lemon perfectly. I’m really liking herbs in my drinks and am going to have to experiment with this more at home.
Chef/Partner Eli Kratzert started sending out plates of food and we sat down to Sweet Chili Calamari and Tenderloin Carpaccio. Unfortunately both were victims of having sat on the table too long as we were all chatting and sipping cocktails. The calamari had good flavor – just enough heat blananced with sweet to make them to my liking, but they were cold and the breading had lost its crunch. My hunch is that this would be a great item when eaten fresh from the kitchen and the portion was huge for a $6 appetizer. The carpaccio was just okay; the toast points were too hard from sitting out and the carpaccio itself had little flavor. The big hits of the evening for me were the Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp, the Seared Ahi Tuna and especially the Prime Sirloin Burger. The shrimp were cooked very well and were very spicy without being all spice and the bread was nice to soak up the sauce. I really enjoyed the tuna but I seemed to be the only one. It was perfectly rare and mild flavored and was served with a spicy mustard sauce, wasabi and ginger so you could layer the flavors to your liking. The knockout of the evening was the burger – it was juicy and rare and topped with a bacon that we were all talking about. Turns out they rub it with spices and sugar that give it a hint of “heat and sweet” that make a perfect pairing with the succulent burger below.
Cliff told us that while Fleming’s is a chain he and Eli are local boys. They met while working at the Hyde Park location down the road where Eli worked his way up from a dishwasher to a Chef. When the opportunity arose to become owners of the local franchise for Fleming’s and “take on their old boss” at Hyde Park they took it. While the menu itself is controlled by the company all of the sauces, breads (except the burger buns) and accompaniments are made in-house.
So what is my conclusion? Fleming’s holds it’s own against the only nearby steakhouse competitors: independent Moxie (which has never wowed me) and locally-based chain Hyde Park. I think this happy hour menu is great– all the dishes were solid and the burger was amazing. The price for the portion was more than reasonable and I think this would be a fantastic place to meet friends after work without spending a fortune (2 drinks and a plate of food big enough to share for about $22 with tip is not bad). I did not get a chance to look at their dinner menu but they do offer 100 wines by the glass, which would please someone like my father who loves to try new wines; and seasonal prix fixe menus for a reasonable price (right now its 3-courses for $35.95). They also have facilities for private events and play host to several fundraisers each year. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Fleming’s to someone seeking out a steakhouse or a great happy hour in the Southeast suburbs.