Binni & Flynn’s
575 Lancaster Avenue
If the walls at 575 Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn could talk, I have no doubt that they’d be jabbering on hot & heavy about their identity crisis. At first, the space was Meridith’s American Bistro, named for owner Meridith Coyle. Then, after extensive renovations and a completely revamped menu, it became Aneu Bistro & Wine Bar. Now, after another makeover, it has been reincarnated as Binni & Flynn’s.
This game of musical restaurants, of course, really isn’t as wacky as it may first appear, as Ms. Coyle’s parents, Richard and Irene, founded the original Binni & Flynn’s, an exceedingly popular regional Southwestern cantina franchise, in the early 1970s. The most notable outpost was the family-owned establishment located just off Route 202 in Wayne’s Gateway Shopping Center, which finally closed its doors in 2001. After a twelve year hiatus, Ms. Coyle has resurrected the restaurant from the ground up; she has even teamed with the original chef’s younger brother in order to recreate her parents’ recipes. She has high hopes of restoring Binni & Flynn’s to its former glory… and popularity. Whether she will succeed, of course, is problematic. There are precious few certainties in the restaurant business.
But why the change in the first place…? Perhaps speculation is idle… but I strongly suspect that Ms. Coyle, who enjoys the reputation of being an astute businesswoman, sensed that the Aneu concept had run out of steam – if it had ever really picked up steam in the first place. When I reviewed the restaurant in February 2011, I found both the food and service erratic. The kitchen was obviously capable of turning out first-rate cuisine; but, on all too many occasions, the chef’s reach seemed to exceed his grasp. Aneu never seemed to get its act together; and, as a result, I have no doubt that the restaurant’s business was probably suffering.
Binni & Flynn’s, on the other hand, has hit the ground running. In several visits, the service has been snappy & attentive and the cuisine pretty much up to the mark. The food here, though, isn’t strictly Southwestern; there are several rather odd twists & turns, obviously designed to touch a wider variety gastronomic bases. And the cuisine is infinitely more casual, less pretentious, and more moderately priced than what Aneu’s kitchen attempted to turn out. So you can travel the Southwestern route or, should the mood strike, take an Italian sojourn – chicken parm or pesto pasta – assuage your hunger with downhome all-American meatloaf & mashed potatoes, or wrap yourself around a burger or overstuffed sandwich.
That being said, however, a good rule of thumb is always to go with a particular restaurant’s strengths, allowing the chef to do what he/she does best. At Binni & Flynn’s, therefore, Southwestern is clearly the name of the game. Why deliberately go to a Tex-Mex eatery and then order Italian? To do so is to invite disappointment
… And, in this vein, there are a host of possibilities to start things off, including all the usual suspects: guacamole & chips, loaded nachos, quesadillas, Mexican pizza and, particularly noteworthy, “mini chimis,” assorted meat, chicken, and bean chimichangas arranged around a generous mound of guacamole. My favorite starter, however, even though it’s technically not an appetizer, is the torta spinaca. Fresh sautéed spinach is combined with a lusciously gooey assortment of melted cheeses and served open faced on a flour tortilla. Accompaniments include refried beans, Mexican rice, and sour cream. A positive nightmare for your next cholesterol test… but outrageously and addictively delicious.
The restaurant also serves up a number of interesting salads that are suitable for sharing as a prelude or perfect for one diner as an entrée. The taco salad, for example, is a large tortilla bowl filled with a variety of goodies: ground beef, lettuce & tomato, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. But even better, in my opinion, is the Southwestern salad. Pristinely fresh mixed lettuces are adorned with chunks of blackened chicken, black bean & corn salsa, slices of avocado, and consummated with a light but proactively assertive cilantro vinaigrette. A first-rate effort in every respect.
Entrées proper are exceptionally well prepared and presented… and the taco trio is the perfect place to begin. Tacos are really Mexican-style sandwiches, either soft folded corn tortillas or crispy fried tortilla shells (I prefer the crispy version myself) filled with various ingredients. B & F’s serves up shredded chicken, ground beef, and fish: three of a kind or one of each. The fish tacos are particularly recommended; the pristinely white flesh is soft, moist, and exhibits a beautiful texture.
The fajitas are also quite excellent. The word fajita literally means “skirt steak,” but this dish has become so popularized that it is made with almost anything. In the case of Binni & Flynn’s the possibilities include marinated steak, chicken, shrimp, or vegetarian. The component(s) is combined with a sizzling mound of peppers, tomatoes, and onions and served up with warm tortillas that are wrapped around the fillings by the diner and then dressed up with a variety of garnishes, specifically shredded lettuce & diced tomato, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo. The key to a fajita is the freshness of the ingredients; and here, it is obvious that all the constituents are cut to order prior to sautéing.
If you’re watching your calories, the above-mentioned vegetarian fajita makes an excellent choice. Not so the chili relleno, which is capable of blowing your diet in one fell swoop. A mild poblano pepper is stuffed (in reality, it is gently sautéed, cut in half, and the two halves are laid flat); this tender foundation is then adorned with either beef or shredded chicken wrapped in an egg white batter… the entire affair is then topped with what looks like a mountain of melted jack cheese. Incredibly rich; but, once again, nearly impossible to resist.
And the burrito, a flour tortilla stuffed with rice & beans and a variety of other ingredients, is capable of doing some serious caloric damage as well. In Spanish, the word burrito means “little burro”; and, indeed, these snacks, are quite small in northern Mexico, where they originated. Once they crossed the border and the gringos laid their hands on them, however, they assumed nothing short of gargantuan proportions. The very centerpiece of Cal-Tex cooking, many are so overstuffed that they could easily feed two people. Binni & Flynn’s renditions aren’t as monstrous as some I’ve witnessed recently; but they are still more than ample. So unless you possess the appetite of a ravening hyena, you’ll undoubtedly be packing up a doggy bag.
In several visits, the only disappointment was the rather bizarre interpretation of an entrée presented à la Veracruzana. This is a classic Mexican dish in which fish or shellfish are prepared in a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, onion, garlic, lime juice, and various seasonings. The object of the sauce’s affection is usually red snapper or other flaky white fish. For some reason, the chef felt the need to substitute salmon (probably because it is less expensive). In any event, the salmon’s assertive, slightly fishy character and the piquant acidity of the sauce got along like riled up strangers – which is to say not at all. In addition, this dish is usually served over rice; the stand-in mountain of mashed potatoes muddled the presentation even more… ditto the charred medley of diced eggplant & zucchini. Not the kitchen’s finest hour.
Among the desserts, the fried ice cream has the most going for it, the apple fajita a close second. Interestingly enough, one of the most popular of Mexican sweet endings is conspicuous by its absence: the flan. The Mexican/Spanish version of crème caramel, a flan is an individual custard that is baked over a layer of caramelized sugar; it is then inverted when served to the diner, flavored with cinnamon, and coated with a light caramel sauce. One can only hope that this classic dessert will be added to the menu in the near future.
With regard to liquid libations… the wine list is bare bones and strictly generic – chardonnay, albariño & sauvignon blanc; pinot noir, malbec & rioja – so don’t get your hopes up… No, this is definitely Margaritaville. Especially recommended are the “Golden”: Cuervo Gold, Triple Sec, simple syrup & fresh lime; or the “Gordo”: Patron, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, simple syrup & fresh-squeezed lime. If you’d prefer a brew, order up a Dos Equis or Corona.
Binni & Flynn’s is a casual, unpretentious, fun kind of eatery. Keep that in mind, stick to traditional favorites, and you probably won’t be disappointed.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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