I heard good reports from some business acquaintances that Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar was now the place to host business guests from out of town, displacing 801 Chophouse from that position. The service was said to be top-notch and the steaks were USDA Prime, which is as good as it gets (also served by 801 Chophouse). I’m not going to weigh in on whether 801 Chophouse or Fleming’s is the best, because they each offer somewhat different experiences, at (high) prices that reflect the location, service, and food offerings. Each also offers a different ambiance, with 801 Chophouse nailing the big-city steakhouse feel and Fleming’s doing the best it can with a high-end shopping center outlot.
I will first get one thing out of the way. Yes, Fleming’s is a corporate-owned restaurant. It is a chain with more than sixty locations around the country. That said, it takes a company with the backing of a Bain Capital to make the sort of investment necessary to build a $3 million dollar stand-alone facility that can provide pretty much flawless and predictably solid service and great food to fill that certain niche in the market.
From my visits to Fleming’s, that niche includes the well-heeled senior executive wanting to take his or her family or business guests somewhere other than the boring confines of a country club. I just get that inescapable impression that most of the guests have golf or tennis tans and clubs or rackets in the back of their Escalade. But the marketing niche targeted by Fleming’s also includes families and couples wanting to go someplace for a special event that will be more exclusive than, say, P.F. Chang’s.
In every visit I’ve made the bar was hopping. In fact, Fleming’s emphasizes both its wine list and its cocktails and martinis. Fleming’s advertises that it offers 100 different wines that are available by the glass. Prices run the gamut but there are selections as affordable as a 14 Hands Cabernet for $8 by the glass or $32 for a bottle. At the other end, a Napa Valley Ladera Cabernet will set you back $19 for a glass or $76 by the bottle. Other Napa cabs can be had for $97-$110 and there is a large selection of other wines at various price points. I am impressed that it is still possible to get an affordable glass or bottle if you are not on an expense account. There are one or two independent restaurants in Des Moines that ought to study the price spread in that wine list. On the other hand, if you are wanting to dent the expense account, then there is no lack of high-end wines that can be called out from the cellar.
The bar also touts its wide selection of retro and contemporary cocktails. We took full advantage of the list, ordering a Belvedere Vodka Martini ($13), a Brazilian ($12.50), which is based on Brazil’s Cabana Cachaça and muddled with strawberries, a Tropical Martini (special price of $6) and an old school Manhattan ($10.95). I will write something in the future about Cachaça, which is a close relative of cane-based rhums from the French-speaking Caribbean. It is interesting to see the bartenders at Fleming’s on top of this new (for the U.S.) wave of drinks.
The meal began with a loaf of cheesy ciabatta served with an herb butter. For an appetizer, we tried the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($15.95) roasted in red pepper and a lime butter sauce. These crab cakes are a different and tasty take on the typical Maryland-style crab cakes I grew up eating as a kid.
For the salad course I ordered the Wedge, which is a big chunk of iceberg lettuce with grape tomatoes, red onions and blue cheese. It was very good.
Because this is a steakhouse, my main course was a Prime Ribeye ($44.95). Fleming’s broils its steaks at 1,600 degrees after seasoning the meat with kosher salt and black pepper. The meat is wet-aged for 21-28 days. This is a few days longer on average than Morton’s in Chicago, which also serves prime beef. The Ribeye was cooked to perfection and was as flavorful and tender as it gets. It appears that the talk about high broiler temperature sealing in the flavors is true.
Our party also ordered a small plate of Sliced Filet Mignon on shiitake risotto and chili oil, drizzled with porcini butter ($18.95) and Filet Mignon Skewers ($18.50). These were delightful and are a very approachable way to eat Filet Mignon, which I always find a bit off-putting when served as a large bloody cube. I really like the way that the other ingredients and the sauces added some other flavors.
For dessert, we ordered the Creme Brulee ($8.50) and Lava Cake ($10.95). They were a fitting end to a wonderful meal.
Service was impeccable and the waiter even managed to recall details of a previous visit. I can practically judge the level of service by my ability to sneak photos of the food without being spotted by the wait staff. It was very difficult to do that, so I give them an “A” in service.
One thing that many may not be aware of is the fact that Fleming’s also helps a number of charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In fact, my first introduction to Fleming’s was during one of the big charity events that it helps sponsor.
Fleming’s is a national chain restaurant now operating in twenty-eight states, with a concentration of its restaurants in California (12), Texas (6), Florida (7) and Arizona (5). Fleming’s was founded in 1998 and grew quickly to become one of the most successful upscale contemporary prime steakhouse restaurants specializing in steak and wine. The chain is now owned by OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC, which is a publicly held company employing 85,000 people. Each Fleming’s is owned by the company and is not franchised, though the site manager does have to invest both a five year contract and a cash buy-in to get the job.
OSI began as Outback Steakhouse and leveraged that success by buying additional chains. Bain Capital and Catterton Partners own nearly all of the equity interest in OSI. OSI in turn also owns Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Roy’s. Because a Fleming’s restaurant is larger than an Outback location, but seats a lot fewer, guests at Fleming’s have one-third more space than those who are packed onto the dining floor at the Outback. The average customer at Fleming’s spends more than three times what a customer at Outback spends ($68 vs. $20). Interestingly, the average patron at Fleming’s spends more on alcohol than an Outback patron spends on their entire meal, alcohol included.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar
150 South Jordan Creek Pkwy
West Des Moines, IA 50266
Monday-Thursday 5 PM – 10 PM
Friday & Saturday 5 PM – 11 PM
Sunday 5 PM – 9 PM