Fleming’s Has Great Sides and a Seafood Tower That Won’t Quit. But in the End, It’s All About the Meat
Part of the fun of eating at Fleming’s is watching the ballet of food preparation. One entire wall of the spacious restaurant on Ponce de Leon Boulevard is occupied by the kitchen, where the chefs and sous-chefs concoct meals behind a glass partition. Here, beneath a cornice of polished copper that provides a warm accent to the main dining room, they work on salads, potato dishes, roast vegetables and baked seafood. But center stage is the grill that sears in the flavor of their beef cuts with temperatures in excess of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Most of our meat is wet aged,” says Chef Andre Mills, who shares his title with Chef Pablo Guarella. “That means it’s vacuumed sealed in plastic for 21 days, which keeps in the moisture.” Only one of their cuts, the bone-in ribeye, is dry aged, where the outside is exposed to chilled air, just above freezing, for up to 30 days. The trade-off is that dry aged meat has a sharper, nuttier flavor, while wet aged is juicier.
The quality of the meat (theirs comes from Texas) is, of course, the first factor in a great steak, and restaurants pay a premium price for cuts that generally don’t make it to the supermarket shelves. Next comes the aging process. And then there is the cooking.
“The magic is really in the passion and the love when the chef cooks,” says Zory Mata, the managing partner of the Coral Gables Fleming’s. “You cannot have passion and love and cook a bad steak.” Of course, there are a few other magic ingredients as well – the mixture of peppers and salts that are packed onto the surface, for example, or the splash of butter that is added to all the steaks before they are served. And then how the steaks are prepared – in Fleming’s case, they are first seared on a grill, then put into the 1,600 degree broiler.
“And we rest our steaks,” says Chef Guarella, a nine-year veteran with Fleming’s, who tag teams with Chef Mills during the week and doubles up with him on weekends when it’s busy. “Letting them rest for a few minutes really allows the juices to balance throughout the steak. That’s why when you cut into the steak you don’t see the red juices rush out.”
Of course, Fleming’s is not just about steaks. Besides their dramatic seafood tower, with crab, tuna poke, shrimp and lobster on ice, they serve starters that include calamari tossed with a sweet chili sauce and banana peppers (addictive), and crab cakes with a lime butter sauce and a nice outside crunch that really taste like fresh crabs (because they are).
The sides and salads are also exceptional. Their Fleming’s salad is a refreshing mix of lettuce with dried cranberries, red onion, walnuts, tomatoes and lemon balsamic vinaigrette, while their Caesar salad is a more sophisticated version of the steak house classic, with fried capers and crispy, bacon-like prosciutto added, and with a lighter anchovy-infused dressing that is tangier and less cloying than traditional Caesar dressing.
The sides are also dependable and scrumptious, starting with their Fleming’s potatoes au gratin, with two cheeses, leeks and jalapeño peppers – kept warm by its hot serving dish. And what would a steakhouse dinner be without creamed spinach, blended with parmesan cheese, cream and spices, like grandma used to make it. We also tried their sautéed mushrooms, which combine button, shiitake and portobello mushrooms with fresh garlic. Again, a simple dish, but one that really brings out the mushroom flavor.
Among the entrées, Fleming’s serves chicken breast in white wine, Scottish barbecue glazed salmon, and a Chilean sea bass sauteed in a sesame-orange miso. But we came for the steaks, and they were superb. We tried the New York strip, a lean cut that was juicy and oh-so tasty; the bone-in ribeye, for that dry-aged nutty flavor; and the massive tomahawk for two – tender yet robust, and worth it just for the presentation of something so Flintstone primordial.
The interior of Fleming’s main dining room is as comforting as its food, with neutral grey walls enhanced by rich mahogany beams, ceiling ribbing and wainscotting, with a glassed-in wine cellar to one side. The cozy bar up front, which feels like a neighborhood hangout in Manhattan, is worth a visit by itself, as is the chocolate lava cake for dessert.
Add to this a veteran serving staff that provides an old-world standard of proper service and you will understand why Fleming’s has remained a popular Gables mainstay for nearly two decades.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
2525 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Also read: Epicurean Takeout