CLIFTON PARK — There’s so much history in our region, and I often stumble across fascinating tidbits when I visit a new restaurant. The Flats Restaurant & Tavern, for instance, takes its name from Rexford Flats, a tract of some 300 acres purchased by and modestly named by Edward Rexford in Revolutionary War times.
We know it as plain Rexford now, and it’s a small part of the town of Clifton Park. Geographically, the area is no place to take the kiddos sledding.
The big news is that Clifton Park has a new independent restaurant at the corner of Grooms and Vischer Ferry roads.
The Flats Restaurant & Tavern opened just over a month ago in a brand-new space in a modern brick strip mall.
There’s a large dining room with booths and tables and a bar, and a good-sized patio. The decor is industrial chic, with concrete floor and metal exposed ceiling.
“It works,” said husband Eric.
Outside, hydrangea bushes, hanging plants and Celtic Knot metal art mostly divert your attention from the parking lot on three sides.
We got a table outside, and let me tell you, people have noticed The Flats is open. The parking lot near the restaurant was almost full when we arrived just after 5 p.m. and it didn’t take long for the patio tables to reach capacity.
“It seems everybody is in a good mood,” said Eric, after we’d noticed several groups of people meeting up, hugging and sitting down together.
Clifton Park recently welcomed Emma Jayne’s, on Route 9 in Halfmoon. Another sit-down, family-friendly, reasonably priced independent restaurant here will be warmly received, I think.
“They have so much stuff,” said Eric of the menu. Have a snack or a full meal; The Flats has wings ($16.50 for 10), a bacon cheeseburger ($15.50, includes fries, salad or chips) or a 14-ounce ribeye steak ($36.50).
There’s lots in between, some with Cajun influence — which feels fresh and different — like a shrimp po’boy ($18.50), chicken and waffles ($18.50), and a Louisiana chicken pasta dish ($23.50) with Southern tasso ham and andouille sausage. There’s Tabasco sauce in the kitchen, and they use it.
Points to the bartender, who managed to deliver ice crystals in Eric’s martini ($12) on a hot night. My Matua Sauvignon Blanc ($12.50) also arrived ice-cold. Table service was attentive, though it’s kind of hard to hear when the place is busy.
We started with an order of shrimp casino ($16.50), a brilliant interpretation of the standard clam dish. Why have I never thought of this? Thanks to the chef for this one. I’ll be trying to make it at home.
It makes perfect sense. Besides subbing shrimp for clams, there’s a Cajun influence with chopped okra and ham, and some heat along with the breadcrumbs. It’s a wonderful appetizer for a group, or can serve as dinner for one.
First of all, there is way too much breadcrumb topping, which is just how I like it. Six large shrimp are buried under the rich, browned and seasoned crumbs. Lemon-butter sauce lingers on the bottom.
“Wow, I like it,” said Eric approvingly. He also liked the heat. From cayenne or Tabasco, who cares? It’s excellent, and a generous serving.
We boxed up the leftovers and our meals came out quickly. Eric chose the pappardelle pasta ($24.50), described as “ribbons of pasta tossed with braised short rib, roasted carrot and onions in pan gravy.”
Short ribs show up three times on the menu: in the sheet pan nachos, as a French dip sandwich and here in the pappardelle pasta. They are very rich, moist and flavorful, and hold well, and help nudge the menu in an upscale direction.
Eric had been thinking of the braised short ribs and pappardelle he’d had last year in San Francisco, and what I subsequently made at home: braised rich, long-cooked meat, with sauce reduced almost to syrup. It wasn’t quite that, but it was good.
It also wasn’t a natural choice for a warm July night, but he enjoyed it. The meat was shredded and mixed with thinly sliced carrots and onions. “Like pot roast,” he said. But in a good way.
The sauce was thin and threatened to splash over the low front of the stylish offset pasta bowl. It needs a plate.
As leftovers the next day, I thought it was better than he’d said: the sauce had thickened, some taken up by the pasta. I found the texture of the beef spot-on and the sauce balanced, though not as rich as I’d expect, perhaps because the meat was not very fatty. Very good, though — something I’d order in cooler weather.
I had chicken and waffles ($18), described as hand-breaded buttermilk chicken served between two savory jalapeño waffles with spicy honey-butter sauce. You get a hunk of tender white-meat chicken in a super-extra-crispy, spicy batter, which kind of steals the show.
It keeps the chicken moist, all right, and its heat, from cayenne perhaps, is offset by the sauce. I immediately deconstructed the sandwich, slicing the chicken and dunking bits into the sauce, which I’d had on the side.
The honey-butter sauce looked and tasted mostly like butter, which isn’t bad, with a slight note of sweetness. I’d have liked more honey to properly balance the heat. But the chicken was good enough to stand on its own.
The savory waffles I put to the side and heated the next day. With butter and syrup, they made a compelling argument for putting herbs and jalapeño in my morning waffles.
Sandwiches and burgers come with a choice of french fries, deli salad or kettle chips. I forgot to specify and got fries, which were mostly small, crispy pieces.
We ended on a high note, observed Eric, and shared an order of house-made peaches and crême brulée ($7) with fresh peaches. I had a few bites and found I’d prefer it had set a bit more.
Eric loved it; if he hadn’t stopped eating to total the check, I wouldn’t have had any.
Points to The Flats for a homemade dessert. And for the thoughtful menu. And Cajun bright spots.
It sounds like I have a lot of nits to pick, but overall what they’re doing is remarkable and ambitious, and we approve.
The tab for our meal, with the drinks, tax and 20% tip, came to $118.64.
The Flats opened in June but people have taken to it already. It was noisy on the patio, a sign that everyone was having a good time, said Eric. We saw a lot of people meeting others there and enjoying themselves.
Spend your restaurant dollars at an independent restaurant and support your local community. The food will be better, too.
Meet a friend at The Flats and enjoy.
Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected].
The Flats Restaurant & Tavern
WHERE: 675 Grooms Road, Suite 101, Clifton Park; (518) 357-3827; theflats675.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m Friday; noon to 10 p.m Saturday; closed Sunday and Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $118.64 with drinks, tax and tip
MORE INFO: All major credit cards. ADA compliant. Parking lot. Takeout, no delivery.