Steak is once again ready for prime time.
It wasn't too long ago that the beef industry was reeling from studies that suggested too much beef in one's diet was not a good thing. Today there are some who say we can eat as much as we like.
That may be why we are surfeited with new steakhouses. They're opening up in the kinds of numbers that Italian restaurants did a few years ago. And even some of those Italian restaurants are retooling menus to offer bisteca and meat chops.
The trouble I had with many of those so-called Italian restaurants was that many of them simply boiled pasta, threw some tomato sauce on top and called it Italiano. It takes people who know Italian food to do it well. And it takes people who know steaks to do them well -- or medium or rare -- for that matter.
Fleming's knows steaks. And if the crowd that crammed the new restaurant in Winter Park on a recent Saturday evening is any indication, Central Florida meat lovers are showing their appreciation.
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar serves USDA prime corn-fed beef. The quality of the beef is evident with the first taste. But that quality doesn't come cheaply. Fleming's should be classified in the high-end category of steakhouses.
Outback is the corporate parent of Fleming's . But there's not a bloomin' onion on the menu here. And I can't recall the last time I was in a restaurant with this many people and not a child in sight. Which is not to say it's a nice, quiet place to have dinner, but we'll come back to that.
The steaks are, as I mentioned, quite good. On my first visit, I had the bone-in ribeye ($31.95), a 22-ounce steak with a charred crispy outside and the juicy redness of a precise medium-rare inside. On another visit, the bone-in New York strip ($33.95), a 20-ouncer, was cooked just as beautifully. Both steaks showed the classic qualities of the cuts, the ribeye with its mouth-filling fat and the strip with its coarse-yet-tender texture.
There was an argument at my table as to whether the veal chop ($27.95), a 14-ounce beauty, could rival one seared in the memory from Commander's Palace in New Orleans. I'd love to participate in a chop-off, and I might put my money on Fleming's .
But things went sour when I ordered the chef's mixed grill, market priced at $31.95. It featured a small filet as well as a piece of swordfish and crab legs. The steak was fine, but the swordfish was unpleasantly close to raw. And who knew crab legs could be that small? Not only were they puny, the meager amount of meat that could be extracted -- no cracker was provided and they were inadequately split -- was mushy and tasted of salty water. Tiny and briny. Did I mention Fleming's is a steakhouse? If there's a seafood eater in your party, beware.
Side dishes are extra. I liked the creamed spinach ($5) with its parmesan sauce, but the mashed potatoes were not improved by the celery root and horseradish.
Crab cakes ($11.95) were the hit of the appetizer list. They were substantial disks of crab with a slightly crisped crust, served with a delicate sauce of red pepper and lime butter.
"Wicked" Cajun barbecue shrimp ($10.95) were too garlicky, and the sauce had an unpleasant oily quality. Calamari ($8.95) had a Thai flair, deep-fried and drizzled with a sweet chili sauce and accompanied by crispy rice noodles.
I also sampled a salad, the wedge ($6.50), a huge hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with copious amounts of blue cheese.
Two of the desserts, chocolate lava cake ($7.95) and cheesecake ($6.95), were delicious, the former with a richly bitter chocolate sauce and the latter with a slightly crumbly texture. A cheese plate ($9.95) was an unimpressive array of sliced cheeses served too cold.
The newly constructed restaurant features a large main dining room with an overflow room that can be partitioned for private groups. The kitchen is open to the dining room, and the noise from the cooks combines with the cacophony of a roomful of carnivores. The result is a leonine roar that reverberates off the high ceilings and tortoiseshell light fixtures.
I was impressed with the service; when there were problems they were dealt with promptly and with certainty.
Fleming's wine list is impressive and features 100 wines by the glass. Few could be considered cheap.
Indeed a dinner here is a costly evening. But that didn't seem to matter to the hordes that waited as much as an hour -- even with a reservation -- for their chance to pay. Behold the power of good steaks.