Friday, May 04, 2007

Preview: Fleming’s Brings the Upscale Steakhouse to Knoxville

Originally printed in Cityview Magazine.

The American Steakhouse—dark leather; men in perfectly tailored suits; the scents of charred meat, cigars, and brandy commingling in the air—this is not an environment that exactly welcomes everyone across its threshold. And yet, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar seeks to do just that with a large open space both clinging to and shrugging off old “steakhouse” stereotypes. This is purposeful—Fleming’s has made including its potential female clientele a priority; rejecting the old school notion that steakhouses are dark, masculine, and smoky. In fact, you’ll find that smoking isn’t allowed at all, so leave those stogies at home. Fleming’s means to join the new order of the steakhouse by creating a restaurant that would appeal to women and families as much as stockbrokers; by offering lighter options on the menu; and by employing an open floor plan that wouldn’t be possible if there was smoking allowed at the bar. While the open bar and kitchen area can sometimes create a rather raucous, noisy dining environment, overall the atmosphere is warm and convivial.

Fleming’s is the mastermind of one Paul Fleming—the very “P.F.” behind the monumentally successful P.F. Changs Chinese Bistro. Fleming’s sets itself apart in many ways, but one standout is the innovative wine program, featuring 100 wines by the glass, as well as selected specialty bottles running up to $600 a bottle. The Fleming’s chain has a wine manager employed but does not have sommeliers at each location—rather, every member of the wait staff receives thorough training on the varieties of wines offered, as well as their best food pairings. Another unique offering from the restaurant is the choice to order “tastes” of wines, enabling the customer to order three 2 oz. glasses of wines from the same varietal; allowing you to try a multitude of styles without breaking your budget.

But your budget might be a concern at Fleming’s. While the food is top-notch, the prices reflect it, and the average Knoxville diner might balk at having to order everything a la carte. While the creators of Fleming’s might have had a more affordable alternative to the typical New York Steakhouse in mind, the prices for this market may take some getting used to. However, the food will not disappoint, whether you choose one of the expertly cooked steaks (I can say with authority that the 12 oz. filet mignon that I tried was impeccable), or any of the tempting starters—“family style” side dishes ranging from “Fleming’s Potatoes” (potatoes au gratin, touched with jalapeno) to steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce. The portions are what you would expect at such an American restaurant—generous and enough for multiple people. Please don’t overdo it at dinner, though, because no matter what, you must save room for dessert. I thought I had reached my breaking point, yet a chocolate mousse cake that was as smooth as silk kept calling me back to the table, as did a peach cobbler that would make your grandmother smile.

The service is quite enthusiastic, no doubt reflecting the intense 3 day training session the staff went through before Fleming’s opened its doors in late summer. The training staff at Fleming’s is quick to point out that they choose to hire for the “hospitality gene”, meaning that they often choose personality over experience.

So, head to Fleming’s for hearty portions of excellent food, an unsurpassed selection of wine, and service that will make you feel catered to. Skip it if you can’t handle the sticker shock when you get the bill, but overall I think that it’s a great choice for special occasions and the odd craving for a nice hunk of meat.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
11287 Parkside Drive
Knoxville, TN 37934
For reservations, call: 865-675-9463

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