April 30, 2016

FINALLY I have a reason to go to the mall. 

It may seem like I took my sweet time getting to Flagship Commons based on the fact that they've been open since late December 2015, and I'm just now posting this review. 

On the contrary, it took me a while to get around to all of the concept restaurants. But I think now after 10 distinct visits, it's safe to say I have a pretty good handle on the place.

And, while I wondered if each of these locations should have an individualized review... this food hall mecca is best described as a whole. It is more than deserving of separate visits and posts, but this wonderland of options is an experience in and of itself. 

Another post that will be coming - kid friendliness at "good" restaurants - will certainly also mention what I'll probably start referring to as F.C. But again, that's another post for another time. At the pace I've been writing lately, you can keep an eye out for that one in Spring 2018. For now, I'll say briefly that this is a great place to take kids. They have high chairs, changing tables, the whole setup... because it's a mall and because it was recently constructed. I believe all of the restaurants have kid's menus, and best of all, it's loud enough that nobody will notice if your toddler is having trouble figuring out his 'inside voice'.

Okay, back to the action.

The F.C. promotional mantra burned into my memory urges visitors to "Eat. Drink. Rest your feet." Seems a little like a missed rhyme opportunity, but still catchy. As some know, I genuinely hate malls and shopping in general, so the only resting I'm usually doing here is from the long, long parking lot walks to get into the food hall. 

My first impression was that of only a bystander, as we cruised past and scoped out the space from the Westroads Mall interior shortly after Flagship Commons opened. It was massive. It was loud. It was awesome. 

Our first dining experience was one I thought to just 'get out of the way'. Not because I have anything against salads, because I don't. They're just not typically an exciting enough menu item for me to actually order. 

Clever Greens

This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the least busy option on our first visit to Flagship Commons (only a week after their initial opening). 

As a result, they were still out of several key items (spinach), so I doubled up on the arugula in my Rock the Goat salad. Probably not the best idea, and I should have known better, but the arugula definitely overpowered some other salad components. 

rock the goat
How could I not love Rock the Goat? With goat cheese, walnuts, charred red onion, strawberry, spinach, arugula; and balsamic vinaigrette + add chicken for $3), it's essentially my favorite things. Well in addition to the 'arugula incident' I also found myself with under-ripe strawberries, scarce chicken pieces and a very deliberate taste test of the goat cheese. All the flavors were just on mute somehow. 

For $15, I wasn't impressed with the portion size either. Maybe it's harder to fit into a 'to go' bowl? Maybe the salad should've been chopped? Maybe I can blame the arugula again?? 

I'd like to say I'll go back and try Clever Greens again, but with so many other options in close proximity (that I know I really enjoy)... I can't make any promises. 

Blatt Beer & Table

Starting off, this Blatt is a bit of a unique option for Flagship Commons in that it's a full-service stop. We had originally planned to hit up the original location downtown, but this seemed like a win-win to further my mission of visiting all the Commons stops.

Our meal began with finding the last table for 2, and being offered a highchair for our permanent third-wheel (aka son). It was Benjamin's first experience with a kids menu and crayons. He enjoyed coloring, but not as much as his game of 'alternate between dropping the crayons on the ground and trying to put them in my mouth.'

Bill and I started the meal with two of the many, many, beer options. Me, the Blatt Blood Orange Saison (a collaboration with O'dell) and him with the Infusion Coffee Vanilla Porter. 

I was really craving the Indian-spiced Char-Grilled Chicken sandwich. But after agonizing over the menu, and Bill ordering the sandwich, I called an audible and went for Chicken & Waffles (dixie-fried chicken strips, jalapeno corn bread waffle, honey-orange butter, cracked black pepper gravy & maple syrup). 

chicken and waffles
We started with the Buffalo Chachos, which I obviously didn't read the description of (potato chips, applewood smoked bacon, sriracha buffalo sauce, blue cheese sauce & crumbles, chives) because I was slightly surprised when they weren't tots. But ordering blind and hungry paid off because these had plenty of flavor without the mass that tots likely would've come with. 

buffalo chachos
Our entrees showed up in short order, before we were even done with the Chachos. And they were ON POINT. Fresh out of the kitchen, my chicken was nearly too hot to handle. While I let the chicken cool down by cracking apart the crispy exterior to reveal perfectly moist chicken tenders beneath, I dug into the waffles... which were perfection. The portions of syrup and gravy were entirely "appropriate", and though I craved an equally portioned side of butter, the bits I found were savored all the same. 

I also promptly wrote to Flagship Commons general manager Matthew Carper to compliment our server. Unfortunately I didn't remember her name or save the ticket. But she was simply amazing. She was friendly, attentive and thorough to not only our table, but all the tables around. And more than accommodating to our (at the time) 10-month old baby.

We never had to ask for a thing, everything was in its place at the right moment, and it was nothing short of a perfect dining experience. 

This was all after only one beer, mind you, so I wasn't compelled to feel any unfair generosity either. 

And service aside, I just love the food at Blatt. Happy to have another location option! There are too few places that do what I'll call 'New Am. Bar Food" in a truly impressive way, and this is one of them. Bring on the sandies!

dixie chicken sandwich

Amsterdam Falafel

The visit to Amsterdam seemed unnecessary, since I live within a 1.5 mile radius of the original. But I wouldn't really be dedicated to this post if I didn't try it out. 

falafel platter
curry fries and mayo - oh yeah
So in the spirit of trying new things, I branched out and ordered the Hummus Plate with Falafel (spicy) and Curry Fries, because I couldn't stay that far from my typical order. Unfortunately my computer mouse is still stained yellow, but that's what I get for taking a working lunch on curry fry day. 

It was a mountain of food, and just as good as the original. The most noticeably improvement, I'd have to say, is the speed of service. There are days where it might be faster to drive to Westroads than wait for a sandwich at the Dundee location.

Juan Taco

One of several brand new concepts created specifically for F.C., Juan Taco is probably as close as many mall visitors will ever get to traditional hand-tacos. For others, it's pretty safe gateway cuisine before they commit to making a trip to South Omaha taquerias. 

For me, it was a great place to grab a Corona in the middle of the day after baby swim class. Oh, and also a bunch of food. The Lime Rice Tortilla Soup was hearty, the tacos were tasty and the Chicken Quesadilla was exploding with cheese (in the good way). Sides and kids menu offered lots of options to share around the table too. 

We sampled a variety of items, but on subsequent visits I'll probably happily revisit other locations in F.C.
tacos and more
lime rice tortilla soup
fish taco and chicken taco

Weirdough Pizza Co.

I love the name of this place. I also loved their crust... something about when a big sheet of pizza toes the line between flatbread and spongey soft dough really warms my heart. It was chewy, but not too soft. Malleable, but not squishy. And toppings offered just the right amount of extra intrigue. 

But ready-made pizza is a challenge for me. 

It seems most logical to order what really sounds the most appetizing from the menu. But ALL THAT DELICIOUS PIZZA IS ALREADY MADE AND STARING ME IN THE FACE... taunting me while I order something that would take 20 minutes. 

Some days I don't have that kind of time. I just need the pizza that's already begging to be eaten. In 20 minutes, I'll have finished eating and be on my way out the door. 
Weirdough pizza
Ready to eat pizza

Aroma's Coffeehouse

Hard to say if I have a rating for this Aroma's location, since I've only stopped by for a chai latte so far. The latte itself was pretty okay, and I can't really see myself revisiting F.C. for coffee too much in the future, so I'll leave it at that. Baristas were friendly, there wasn't a line. So all in all I'd say it's a good option if you're in need of coffee while in the mall. 

The Bar isn't a place I've spent any time, though it would certainly be preferable to braving the mall on most days, if given the option (again, I despise shopping). 

Worth noting also, there are some ice cream options available from Ted & Wally's here as well, in case you need to get your sweet on. 

Yum Roll Sushi

Another "new" concept, created specially for this food hall. I use the quotation marks since it's presented by Blue Sushi. So obviously the sushi items and some apps are straight out of Blue's menu - in a good way. Of course I forgot to order any of those items, because my order of 'sake' confused the employee taking my order... as did the fact that I tried to pay cash. For some reason you can only pay cash at the end of the line? 

The sake confusion started when she asked if I wanted it spicy or regular. Wondering why I'd never come across spicy sake in all my years of drinking it, we soon cleared up that I wasn't asking for salmon. 

As far as my rating, it's solely based on the rice bowl since I didn't eat any sushi. I ordered a pretty random concoction... and while I intended to order tofu (hoping it would have been fried), my meal was not only vegetarian but also accidentally vegan. Huh. 

The Yum Yum Bowl lets you build your bowl by picking an item from each category. Besides being essentially a big pile of food debris, mine was... 

Protein: Shoyu Braised Tofu
Base: Brown Rice
Sauce: Japanese Curry
Veggie: Shoyu Vegetable Saute
Garnish: Spicy Korean Slaw
Crunch: Fried Shallots
yum yum bowl
It's times like these that I wish that 'pick your own' places had some staple options, for those times you're feeling lazy while ordering. And for whatever reason I just couldn't bring myself to order sushi from a place that has to use the line 'sushi isn't scary' on most of its customers. If I want Blue sushi, I'll head to one of the many other locations. Preferably for Sunday happy hour/day. 

So though I wasn't necessarily displeased with my vegan bowl, it's certainly not an option that would draw me back again... that's because the restaurant next door is the one that's most captured my attention and keeps me coming back to F.C. in the first place. 

That restaurant is... 

Yoshi-Ya Ramen

I'm so happy that ramen is a thing in Omaha right now. And while this isn't the rave 5-star review that one of my foodie friends would be writing if this were her blog, I continue to be well pleased by Yoshi-Ya Ramen, the fourth totally unique concept created specifically for F.C.

Surely it's just my laziness that I can never remember the actual name 'Yoshi-Ya" and I keep calling it "The Ramen Place." But with ramen restaurants on the rise in town, I'll have to come up with a better name soon. 

tonkotsu deluxe
My ramen game really just consists of ordering Tonkotsu everywhere I go, with slight variations. So that's what I did here over and over... and over. Yes, I've been here three times. This is partially why it took me so long to write this review. I just got stuck on this place. It's speedy, convenient, consistent ramen. Win.

Like Yum Roll, this stop has some education to do. But I agree... "Instant noodle packs have tainted the ramen name long enough." 

Here the Tonkotsu Deluxe is my order: chicken & pork broth; chashu (sliced pork belly), ajitama (soy-marinated) egg, menma (marinated bamboo shoots), moyshi (sprouts), negi (green onions), corn, bacon rayu chili oil. 

In addition to all of these things, which you can also order extra of, you can also get naruto (swirled fishcake) or kaedama (extra noodles) in your ramen. 

Someday I feel like I should try the ramen burger... maybe? But probably not. 

The preferred variation of Tonkotsu Deluxe I'm on right now is to 86 the corn, add another egg. Enjoy!

As for the rest of Flagship Commons, there are a couple more items to know.

First, they have a TON of seating, and a giant fireplace. 

Second, if it's a nice day on a weekend, you might have to park pretty far away. 

Third, they have great signage, from both the mall and outdoors. Day or night. Great branding. They also have a patio - outside of Blatt. Yes, it does face the parking lot. 

Finally... two words. Bottle filler (drinking fountain). But really, even the restrooms are pretty sweet. (Check out that arrow, just in case I can't find my way back to the ramen place. So considerate). 

Last, all of the restaurants have Happy Hour options. All the menus and everything else you've ever wanted to know about Flagship Commons is available on their website: http://flagshipcommons.com

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