Flatiron's American Bar and Grill is the fifth in a fleet of food vendors operated by Concept Restaurants, including José Muldoon's and the Ritz Grill. But most people will recognize it more for being housed in an old Bennigan's Grill and Tavern, near Tinseltown USA.
After two visits, it's clear that Flatiron's hasn't completely shaken its chain-restaurant shell: The muted interior, in browns and tans, is friendly and neither adds nor detracts from the experience, and the food vacillates between pretty bad and pretty good.
Perhaps the most noticeable change is that while Bennigan's aimed squarely for middle-America modesty, Flatiron's is trying too hard to be all things to all stomachs.
For the sports fans, there are multiple flat screens, NFL Sunday Ticket, draft beer and burgers like the Chicago ($10): "peppered and seared," says the menu, with blue cheese, bacon and caramelized onions. Though on a firm and fluffy bun, the burger is seared right through the requested medium-rare to dark, tasteless brown; the accoutrements, including leathery bacon, are flatly piled in the middle of the burger; and the large stack of curly fries is lukewarm, though otherwise tasty.
Finer diners get multiple nods from an extensive wine list, including a $125 bottle of cabernet, and appetizers like the lump crab and shrimp cocktail ($12), and wine lover's plate for two ($9). The crab and shrimp boasts artful smears of cocktail sauce running up the side, and the lover's plate is drizzled with mustard seed oil.
Individual shrimp appear between lumps of shredded crab stacked on thick slices of cucumber — a nice touch initially, but the crab's delicate flavor is no match for the vegetable. The wine lover's plate provides two truly wanton blue-cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates that quickly melt into sugary molasses notes after a couple bites, while the rest — thin, dry Serrano ham, sliced pears and Gruyère, and Irish cheddar cheeses — qualifies as average, though light.
Speaking of starters, better than either are the heavenly Monte Cristo sliders ($8): steaming hot, dense, lightly fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar, wrapped around Swiss and American cheeses melting over sliced turkey and ham, served with grape jelly.
Which brings us to the casual crowd, and dishes like the sweet and fresh Cougar Classic salad ($9) of shredded chicken, candied pecans, pear, avocado and goat cheese. Or the anemically seasoned half-rotisserie chicken ($12), with two potato dishes among your choice of sides: undercooked, under-heated, thick-with-cheese au gratin, and tepid mashed.
And, finally, there's the Flatiron steak ($14). It's almost cliché by now, but when a bottle of A1 precedes the meat, it's never a good sign. Were it not for the overpowering smothering of blue cheese on top, the steak would lack for any kind of flavor, and neither the stringy connective tissue at the edges nor the bland accompanying green beans help at all.
On a final pleasant note, dessert brings a great, rich dark chocolate mousse with tart raspberry sauce ($5).
The "great" descriptor just doesn't apply that often, because Flatiron's needs some help. It needs to remember that hot food should be hot, served on hot plates; that entrées should not come 60 seconds after appetizers (as happened during our dinner visit); and that quality packaging and quality product are not the same thing.