I ate at every Flagship Commons restaurant so you could feel like you did too.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who avoids Westroads. So many people, a high likelihood someone else will be wearing something you buy there and did I mention so many people (you’ve probably been avoiding since high school/college). So when Flagship announced their plans to open a food hall, I was intrigued. Mainly because I missed the easy access T.G.I.Friday’s had in the location and particularly as a reason to re-explore Westroads, which in its defense has added a lot of things (H&M, expanded Forever, the soon to be opened Container Store, Canes). I’m not a huge fan of the other dining options surrounding Westroads (don’t tell me how good Cheesecake Factory is … I don’t care) and liked the concept of not waiting forever for a decent meal that didn’t include mystery meat.
So for the last eight months, I have been visiting Flagship Commons, eating at every concept at least once and forming lots of opinions and a few favorites. The only exception was Aromas, as I’ve had them tons of times and coffee doesn’t really depreciate in a new location. I did snag a cinnamon roll in passing on Sunday and they were delicious.
My initial visit to Flagship came as I was attempting to not get sick before a New Year’s Eve trip. Immediately I knew steaming broth would be the answer but didn’t want to potentially contaminate the masses. Enter the Flagship concept that by far does the best job with its take-out option.Separate container for broth, the rest of the tonkotsu ingredients including chashu (soy braised chicken or pork), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), moyashi (sprouts) and negi (green onions). At the time this also included an ajitama (soy-marinated) egg but a look at the current online menu does not include this inclusion cost-free. I also added a side of korean spicy wings because I’m a glutton for punishment.
The ramen was delicious and impressive for being made in under 20 minutes at a mall. While I didn’t get the full experience of sitting at the small bar and slurping, the convenience of eating quality ramen on my couch sufficed. I immediately wanted more wings as well.
On a second visit, I opted again for take out.I tried the deluxe tonkotsu (also missing from the current online menu) which contained everything above as well as corn and bacon rayu oil made with crispy bacon and chili oil. Each time my ramen was consistent, the presentation was only slightly compromised (by the nature of the difference between a bowl and a container) and flavorful. What was at first my second favorite spot at Flagship became my Number One (more on that in a bit).
Over my lunch break, I decided to try FC’s call ahead option and try out Clever Greens. I like to think of myself as healthy every couple of months, so this concept fits in nicely with having a salad for lunch that didn’t skimp on flavor. I chose the Caesar by Southwest which has cotija cheese, crispy tortillas, avocado, romaine and chipotle caesar. I of course also opted for the chicken add-on. They ask you if you want light, medium or heavy on the dressing which is a nice touch along with mixing everything up in a bowl for you, allowing for even distribution of ingredients. Unfortunately, calling ahead and getting this to-go only works if you live or work relatively close and plan on eating as soon as you get to your location. By the time I got back to work, after a quick stop at the bank and a last minute meeting, much of my salad was soggy. A nice touch may be to include the dressing on the side for to-go orders and letting the customer add right before consumption.
Despite my warning just now I got a salad to go again for my second visit, albeit this time better timed. I added chicken to the Baja Moment (jack cheese, crispy tortillas, sweet corn, charred red onion, avocado, romaine and tex-mex ranch) while substituting the grape tomatoes for black beans. I should have stuck with my gut and also subbed out the charred red onion as it added a weird consistency against everything else in the salad. Lots of flavor in both salads but the price point seemed just a bit much. Spending $10-12 is just a bit of a stretch when you could easily recreate each one at home. Clever Greens is heavy on convenience, which isn’t a foreign concept for the health conscience (Eat Fit Go…).
Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob
Next up was Amsterdam. I’ve had their original location on my list for a while so I was excited for the extra incentive to try it out. I went with the doner kabob (beef & lamb with tabouli, pickled red cabbage and carrot chickpea salad) sandwich option and added feta fries (curry dusted with garlic, herb, spicy green and red sauces). Admittedly, I was probably setting myself up for failure with this one as I HATE chickpeas. Don’t offer me hummus and I will give you a puzzled look if you claim falafel as the next best thing. So ordering a sandwich filled with chickpea salad and cabbage was not an inspired move. Getting past that the doner kabob was quite salty and a bit dry.
I enjoyed the fries if only for the toppings; otherwise, they were pretty ordinary.
I also tried a fountain soda, made with cane sugar and healthier sounding flavors like agave vanilla cream. A new venture for Pepsi the Stubborn Soda line debuted at Flagship which is kind of a big deal. Still definitely soda but one I wouldn’t mind spoiling my no soda rule for.
Weirdough Pizza Co.
Next up was pizza as I again needed to grab and go. It was towards the end of the night so I didn’t have to contend with the lines I’d become accustomed to every lunch break so this visit started out promising. I ordered both The Butcher (tomato sauce, soppressata, mortadella, prosciutto, mozzarella) and the Cheesy (bechamel, cheese curd, grana padano, smoked caciocavallo). Of the two the Cheesy was my favorite. The unique blend of cheeses lent a certain depth to the slice. I loved the crust for both pizzas but it was not as tasty cold as some slices I’ve had and did not re-heat super well.
I definitely visited Juan Taco the most out of the Flagship concepts. Mainly because I love Mexican food and partially because of my initial experience with the fish taco. Make no mistake, a meal here is pricey (par for the course) but you aren’t getting a #4 from Taco Bell. Refreshing Aguas Frescas, a killer margarita, delicious fried chicken skins with chipotle mayo (which appear to no longer be on the menu) and a phenomenal fish tacos are among my favorite foods I’ve tried at Flagship. My only qualm, and why I can’t place Juan in the number one spot is the inconsistent experience I’ve had with the fish tacos. The first time it was delicious and in the running for a better deal than MULA’s. The second time they were alright, still flavorful and with a nice amount of chipotle mayo. A third time the cabbage slaw was chopped so roughly I had to take most of it out to get an enjoyable bite and the most recent time the entire presentation was a bit off, making it the messiest taco I’ve ever eaten.
An order of charro beans and green chile rice didn’t impress – lacking any kick or spice as one would expect from something with green chile present. A carnitas tacos had tender meat but a weird overall experience with the presence of beans. Again, if you get anything here, try a fish taco and get a fresca or margarita and definitely stay to eat (these tacos do not travel very well very far).
Blatt Beer & Table
Blatt is the only concept here with the option for full service so I decided to try it on a slower Thursday. The “interior” matches their other locations almost perfectly and there is an outdoor patio. I started with a Blonde Fatale and decided to order a Blatt Burger as it was one of the few items I hadn’t tried on the menu. I’m normally quite picky but reined it in this time, only asking them to take off the tomato and pickles while giving me the Guinness-braised onions on the side and paying extra for the aged white cheddar (because I don’t eat plain hamburgers by choice).
Clearly, my perception of this being a slower night was not shared by my server. After waiting forever just to get a beer ordered she then had to “fix” my order three times, the first time occurring because my burger had pickles. Then there were no onions on the side and no white cheddar which I added when ordering. There were maybe four other couples or people there so the “full-service” experience was a little bothersome but the burger was good and the beer was cold.
Yum Roll & The Bar
I saved Yum Roll for last as I am not really a huge fan of Blue Sushi. It’s obvious that a food hall owned by Flagship would include their own existing concepts like Blue and Blatt so I tried to be a bit more optimist than I normally would be. I decided to try one safe thing that I knew I loved (itchy salmon) and branch out into a new roll and a Yum-Yum bowl.
While waiting for my food to be prepared I also had a quick drink at The Bar. The bartender made my mojito simply enough and even transferred it to a plastic cup when I told her I didn’t know how long my food was going to take. Wasn’t the fanciest or strongest drink I’ve ever tried but we also are in the middle of a mall. For $7 however, I’d recommend just getting a margarita from Juan or a drink at Blatt that packs a bit more punch.
The Philly Bomb I tried was good – great presentation, fresh and made quickly. It’s an interesting experience to watch the sushi chefs making various rolls as passer byers look on in amusement or puzzlement.
My yum-yum bowl containing brown rice, lemongrass chicken, charred miso butter corn and green curry with cilantro + thai basil and fried shallots was enjoyable. I was expecting a bit more flavor from all the toppings I selected and for it to be a little less dry. Reminded me of an Asian version of Chipotle’s bowl (which I also think is overrated but whatevs).
Overall, Flagship Commons is a great concept. I love the option to get something other than chicken fingers at the mall and the design of the space is great. But many of the concepts are just a little too safe or not as well executed as some would expect, especially considering the price points of each. It begs the question of who is Flagship’s real audience. If it’s run of the mill mall-goers some big considerations need to be made around adjusting attitudes around mall food price points. If they are looking to attract people like me, who don’t really care about the mall but would like a decent fish tacos when in the vicinity, consistency and quality needs to be a focus.
In the end, Flagship hasn’t reached destination status for me. Outside of this article, I wouldn’t see myself going out of my way for any of the food. But I’m interested in seeing their growth and recognize that they are looking at new ways to attract a more invested crowd such as their Happy Hour, Vegan Thursdays, Friday Night Concert Series and the upcoming Patio Days at their Blatt full-service section and outdoor patio.