Roti at FTG. Photo David Hammond

So last week, I posted about a trip to Flat Top Grill over 12 years ago that turned out to be less than successful…due entirely to my apparent inability to make something tasty from a buffet of raw items.

When I was invited by the FTG people to give the place another try, I visited there with my youngest daughter, who actually had not been back to the place since middle school.

We ordered some cocktails: she had a Dark & Stormy (DeKuyper Ginger and Dark Rum) and I had a Kentucky Ginger (DeKuyper Ginger again, Coke and Jim Beam). Both these drinks were much sweeter than I would normally order, but sweetness seemed to be the pull-through theme of most of the cocktails (e.g., Rumchata Colada, Scorpion, etc.) and we figured that a little sweetness would go well with the chili heat we anticipated with dinner.

The Spicy Green Beans were startlingly spicy, tossed with roasted Thai chili peppers, but with the sweet drink, everything balanced out. I thought it was bold of the FTG chefs to go so heavy on the heat: we liked it, but I’m guessing it might set a few customers back a little.

At FTG, you can have the server make your meal for you, but that seemed like cheating, so we ordered our protein (now, due to sanitary considerations, meats are no longer selected at the buffet) and went up to put our meals together. I took my menu along as it had all the ingredients on there, and I didn’t want to mess up again and make something muddy and un-tasty.

To check out the new options, I ordered a burrito, which was okay, but I should have added way more sauce to the vegetables. The rather thick flour tortilla was very absorbent, and this Mexican style sandwich could have used more moisture. But hey, I followed the recipe. I think this is just a boring sandwich when fresh…when re-heated the next day, it was actually tastier, the sauces having soaked into the tortilla wrapper to make it moister and more delicious.

My daughter ordered the roti, and this was a better choice. During preparation, the cooks divide the bowl of selected ingredients into four or so crispy Indian bread pockets. I liked the taste of the bread, and the crispiness was a welcome relief from my bland burrito.

This second trip to FTG was way better than my first trip there (probably because this time I followed the recipe on the menu).

I continue to believe that for a young person – let’s say a young man who is living alone and doesn’t cook for himself – having a huge meal for $9.99 at lunchtime, could be very tempting. If you want, you can even make a second trip to the buffet for an additional four bucks, and then pack that meal up and have it at home later.

For an old man like me, though, it’s too much work. When I go out to eat, I want someone to bring me food and clean up after me. I’m disinclined, at least when I’m in a restaurant, to work at dinner.

One cool and relatively new thing at FTG is the incredible selection of vegetarian and vegan options: we tried the quorn (a mushroom-based meat-like substance), the veat and seitan and it was all very good. I mean, it had good tooth and flavor, and mixed in with a good helping of vegetables, a very fine non-meat alternative. I think it’s very good, too, that the grill at FTG is designed with separate gas-fired wok areas for cooking vegetarian and vegans items so that these entrees never come in contact with meat oils from previous orders. Smart.

So, overall, if you’re young and hungry – and even vegetarian or vegan – Flat Top Grill is right for you.

But probably not for me.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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