How the menu shakeup at Downtown's Flatiron is shaking out

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Flatiron chefs from left: Evaristo Flores, Matthew Heaggans, Larissa Kenney, Steve Nicholson and Joe Liles

Days before launching the new menu at Flatiron Bar & Diner, Matt Heaggans couldn't accept a compliment on his pastrami board, a clever riff on the classic stacked deli sandwich. His version encourages diners to compose their own meal out of thick slices of brined and smoked pink brisket, brown bread, beer mustard and pickles.

But the texture was off, he argues. It wasn't as good as it could be.

Flash forward a few weeks and a switch from a dry to wet brine, and the new chef de cuisine can finally say, "Thanks," when a guest says it's good (and plenty have uttered this gratitude; in its first two months on the menu, diners devoured 300 pounds worth of pastrami).

It's this kind of exacting behavior that's earned a positive reaction from diners to the new global-inspired menu at Flatiron-a spot that, for 20 years, had etched its name under the "old reliable" category for barbecue fare. But it was time for a change, says chef and general manager Steve Nicholson, who hired Heaggans earlier this year to help lead the charge.

"When we started, this was a diner concept," says Nicholson, a 15-year Flatiron vet, who confesses to a few sleepless nights before the menu reveal. "Since, it's been a little Cajun, a little New Orleans, a little barbecue. It was such a broad range, and now it's more focused."

New dishes are inspired by whatever piques their interest, says Heaggans, former owner of Swoop Food Group. They'll continue to be influenced by Southern cuisine, but if Heaggans and Nicholson read an article on about coppa, you'll probably see pork neck starring in an entree with coconut polenta and roasted grapefruit.

"I'm always looking around, seeing what's going on," Heaggans says. "Pork neck is something I haven't seen around here, so I asked, 'What can I do with it?' "

Pastrami is now the main ingredient coming out of Flatiron's smoker. "We wanted to focus on doing one thing really well, instead of a lot of things OK," Heaggans says. Pastrami resides on the seasonal menu of bar snacks, small plates and entrees with dishes including fried pig ears with lemon tartar sauce, a fried chickpea nicoise with chili and lemon zest, Sichuan wings with puffed rice, tostadas with tofu chorizo and pickle-brined fried chicken.

Classics like pulled pork, gumbo and fried oysters can still be found here. The Flatiron burger also made the cut, but it's now a smash-style burger, just like you'd find at a traditional diner, with American cheese and ancho chili mayo.

"There's a little revolution going on in the city," Heaggans says, talking about the timing of the change. "People are taking food more seriously. They're more adventurous about what they want to eat. We want to be on board with that."

The must-order?

Ask Heaggans and Nicholson for the dish all diners must try, and they'll respond in unison: the Smoked Carrot Salad with ricotta, golden raisin vinaigrette, pistachio and arugula. It's been a surprise hit. "It's got so many different textures," Nicholson says.