In keeping up with the people at the Lone Star Steak House chain, Outback Steak House has their own "upscale" steak house chain called Fleming's Steak House. It's similar to Lone Star's Sullivan's and Del Frisco's Steak Houses.
As you know, I'm usually death on chains, but I'm finding that places like Fleming's, Sullivan's and Del Frisco usually serve up a pretty good steak, they have great wine lists and the atmosphere is warm and inviting.
I found that even though Fleming's Steak House is a chain, each of the restaurants have a managing partner on the premises. It's similar to the Francesca chain of Italian restaurants in the Chicago area where you have a big backer - in this case Outback's Bill Allen and Paul Fleming (who founded P.F. Chang's) - who are the major funding agents. Then you have regional partners who oversee individual restaurants, then a managing partner and a managing chef who have a financial stake in their own restaurants.
I recently ate at one that's next to the Plaza Frontenac shopping center in the Frontenac area of St. Louis. I took the sales crew from The Screening Room, one of my good dealers in St. Louis, to Fleming's after a training and sales meeting.
Fleming's instantly reminded me of Sullivan's - heavy on the dark wood paneling, an open dining room with a clear view into the kitchen. The thing that I liked about it was that Fleming's - unlike Sullivan's - was a non-smoking restaurant, including the bar area.
Fleming's offers about 100 wines by the glass (or you can buy the whole bottle), in addition to having a reserve list of over 100 bottles of wine. Wine Spectator has lauded Fleming's with a number of awards over the past couple of years.
We opted for a 2001 Franciscan Magnificat, a cabernet/merlot blend that is light, yet full flavored. It turned out to be excellent with our steaks.
I started with a wedge salad with their homemade bleu cheese dressing (not unlike Sullivan's wedge/bleu cheese salad, except Fleming's uses Danish bleu cheese and not Maytag blue cheese).
I got the ribeye without the bone in, the others got filet's. They were all cooked to perfection at a high temperature (similar to the Ruth's Chris method of cooking steaks) and were served on plates that the server told us would be at 350 degrees (F) when they came to our table.
The sides are served family style and we got an order of the Fleming's potatoes - basically au gratin potatoes with cream, cheese and finely chopped jalapenos (yummy!). We got a mixed vegetable side and some sauteed mushrooms that were wonderful, as well.
For dessert, we all shared their creme brulee, which was good, but I've had much better. And a huge piece of Key Lime pie, which was very rich and very good.
Our waitress was a young gal who had worked at the St. Louis Fleming's location since they opened in December of 2004. She was attentive, answered a lot of our questions (since none of us had been to Fleming's before), and had a good sense of humor.
Fleming's opened their first steak house in 1999 and is growing rather quickly. They recently added 6 new locations to bring their total number of restaurants to over 40 nationwide. In the Midwest, there are Fleming's in Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Lincolnshire (northern Chicago suburb), as well as the one in St. Louis.
Fleming's isn't cheap - with a bottle of wine it set me back about $85 a person with tip. But if you're looking for a good dining experience and you want to go all out, I'd recommend Fleming's. It's not the best steak house I've eaten at, but it's very good.