Thursday, December 25, 2003

Raising the steaks

Posted on Thu, Dec 25, 2003 at 4:00 AM

With more than 20 locations across the country, Fleming's Steakhouse is another in the "upscale chain" concept of restaurants coming from the popular Outback Steakhouse folks (whose other partnerships include Roy's and Bonefish Grill). Paul Fleming, founder of the restaurant bearing his name, came into the business by opening a Ruth's Chris Steak House franchise in Beverly Hills, then moved on to start P.F. Chang's ("P.F.", get it?).

Ironically, Fleming's is sited on the high-traveled intersection of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue, a hop, skip from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's in the Winter Park Village.

Steak was the food of choice for businessmen back when I walked the corporate corridors, and judging by the number of suits in this atmospheric dining room of dark wood and leather, it remains so.

The distinguishing ingredient of the Fleming's chain is its multipage wine menu, with every vintage available by the glass, one that's the size of your head. And since everything is big here in Steak-house Land, the cuts of meat range from a four-inch-high "petite" filet mignon ($23.95) to a humongous 22-ounce bone-in rib eye.

The miniature mignon came to the table as rare as any red-meat lover could hope, an aged hand-cut as thick as a brick that was almost fork-tender, except for a cord of gristle that ran down one corner (which probably only proves that the meat wasn't processed). A starter of "wicked Cajun" shrimp ($10.95) found four large, slightly undercooked shrimp bathed in a pleasingly spicy garlic butter.

As is the fashion, side dishes are extra and, like everything from entrées to desserts, enormous. The platter of sautéed spinach, cooked in brown butter with red onion, is enough for four people; and a smooth and spicy creamed-corn dish with two cheeses would take a family to finish (both $4.95). The baked potatoes are big enough to have Wilson stamped on the side.

Those taking a break from beef can find a select offering of fish or chicken. The "tuna mignon" ($24.95) was just as thick as the petite filet, perhaps too thick to do such a lovely piece of fish justice, as the center was not just rare but ice-cold.

Our waitress was friendly and casual, albeit terribly busy, which pretty much describes the room itself. At least while Fleming's is a new draw for the culinary curious, reservations are mandatory for timely seating. But full service is offered at the booths in the bar area, and at the bar itself, so you might be able to sneak in past the waiting throngs. Steak lovers won't be disappointed.


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