By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
OLDSMAR — The dining scene in Oldsmar has had some setbacks in recent months. East of Chicago Pizza and Winners Sports Grill closed. Then chain ice creamer Cold Stone Creamery went dark. But next door FlameStone American Grill shines bright.
The year-old restaurant is owned by Nick Pappas and family. Nick's last restaurant, Grillmarks in Largo, operated for five years at the site of his father's 26-year-old George Pappas Restaurant. These are restaurant folks who have weathered an array of storms over the years, adopting a strategy of constant tinkering to stay fresh.
FlameStone is lovely, with a masculine, clubby design that includes dark wood floors, fieldstone walls and a sleek stainless-steel open kitchen, tiny glass pendant lamps warming the space with golden light. The menu consists of mid-priced steaks, rotisserie meats and an appealing lineup of froufrou-topped flatbreads. Servers and bartenders are breezy but professional, apt to strike up merry conversation with those ensconced at the long, glamorous bar.
But all this isn't enough these days to assure success. They're offering 10 appetizers for $5 in the bar during happy hour, opting to discount drinks in lieu of a 2-for-1 special (their customers more enthusiastic about a discounted single drink than the commitment to drink two). The kitchen is presenting more dishes in half portions, and an outdoor patio will soon get a roof and retractable vinyl siding so it's temperature-controlled.
In an upscale American idiom like Bonefish Grill or Stonewood Grill and Tavern, FlameStone is a good value: A golden-skinned half chicken ($13.90) gets a lively dry rub and is paired with a generous scoop of red-skinned mashed potatoes, super buttery, and a jumble of grilled asparagus stalks and tender-crisp julienned carrots. Though a $9.90 hamburger may not be cheap, it's a deliciously juicy Angus burger gussied with sharp cheddar, applewood bacon, fried onion straws and real-tasting tomato, paired with a pile of excellent fries.
Of the steaks, all of which come with those same veggies, choice of starch and a choice of sauces and compound butters like champagne cream or roasted garlic and leek, the bone-in rib eye is the splurge ($27), but a flat-iron sirloin cut ($18) is a bargain, with deep, meaty flavor and rich texture from long dry-aging.
There are two showstoppers at FlameStone: fresh guacamole (the priciest appetizer at $11, but delicious) squished into existence tableside, and at the bar when you order a Guinness, the barkeep pours then places the glass on a "surger," new technology that sends ultrasonic waves through the glass of beer to create the appropriately creamy head. Wacky, but indicative of a seriousness at the bar: well-made cocktails and a wine list that features crowd-pleasers at fair prices.
Desserts are portioned to share at FlameStone, from a quartet of creme brulee (the best was deeply chocolate; $7.90) to a trio of cheery cupcakes ($6.90). And though Oldsmar may be missing the family-friendly allures of Cold Stone, next door FlameStone keeps the torch alight with tabletop-grilled s'mores ($7.50).
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.