The motto at Flora, West Hartford’s new plant-based restaurant, is “As vegan as you want to be.”
The eatery’s focus may seem perplexing if you’re familiar with KC and Jaime Ward’s other restaurant, Rooster Co. in Newington, which specializes in rotisserie chicken. But the couple, moving toward more healthful, plant-based diets at home, saw a need for more vegan and vegetarian fare in their native West Hartford.
“I think it’s a necessary balance that the world really needs. I don’t think anybody can say ‘Nobody should eat meat,’ but I think there needs to be more options or alternatives to the standard plate ensemble,” KC Ward says, describing a traditional veggie-starch-protein lineup. “You go to culinary school and that’s how they teach you to compose a plate.”
KC and Jaime went to Conard and Northwest Catholic High schools, respectively, and met and fell in love after working together at Billy Grant’s Restaurant Bricco. Now, as married parents, they’re “trying to get the kids to eat more vegetables,” Jaime says.
Rooster Co. opened in early 2015, featuring rotisserie chicken meals and entrees like bucatini and meatballs with local beef, curried chicken pot pie and cast-iron ribeye. Over time at the Newington restaurant, Jaime would frequently talk to guests, and often heard they’d like to see more vegetarian or vegan options on the menu. KC saw it as a challenge, seeking to not just make vegan dishes, but delicious food that just happened to be vegan.
He began doing research on ingredients that would make up an effective portfolio for vegan cuisine: nutritional yeast, with a savory taste often used to mimic cheese flavor; refined coconut oil, tempeh, tahini, miso paste, tofu.
“It’s a new language that I’m learning, these new products,” he says. “Techniques are similar — grilling, braising, roasting, all that same approach, but it’s the pantry of products, the sourcing.”
When the Wards looked for available restaurant space, they first checked out the former Cuvée on Raymond Road in Blue Back Square (now occupied by Mariuchi, a Japanese market and deli) but their real estate agent convinced them to look upstairs at the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96.
The Wards ended up leasing the restaurant from the American Legion; KC Ward describes it as a “symbiotic relationship,” where the organization continues to host its monthly meetings in the restaurant. The Wards say they’re happy to add something new to West Hartford’s varied dining choices.
“I think having that one extra category on the list is a real benefit to all of us,” KC says.
For months before Flora opened, the Wards experimented with Friday night pop-up dinners at Rooster Co., offering diners a sneak peek of the type of cuisine they planned to showcase in West Hartford.
They received valuable feedback from the dry runs. “We have a lot of repeat customers who are there every Friday, so they’d try it every night that they were in,” Jaime said.
The menu in West Hartford features soups ($5 and $6), salads ($8), appetizers ($8 to $12) “handhelds” at lunch ($12 to $16) and entrees ($15 and $16 at lunch; $17 to $23 at dinner.) Favorites among the starters include butternut squash soup with madras curry powder, rattlesnake bean chili, roasted delicata squash with tomato peanut sauce and onion agrodolce, and smashed avocado on toasted bread with hulled hemp seeds and crushed Doritos (the sweet chili variety, KC Ward said, which are vegan.)
Lunch dishes, including choice of root veggie chips, dressed greens or roasted potatoes, feature a falafel wrap, grilled “cheese” with vegan cheddar, charred onion and apple butter, and a “No-Quesa-Dilla” with a variety of vegetables.
Flora also serves the “Impossible Burger,” ($16) a plant-based burger that’s been appearing in restaurants throughout the country. It’s made with wheat and potato proteins, coconut oil and heme, described by creator Impossible Foods as “an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every single plant and animal” that’s “responsible for the characteristic of taste and aroma of meat.”
At dinner, entrees offer vegan versions of classic comfort foods: a shepherd’s pie with mushrooms, carrots, peas and root vegetable mash; risotto with tempeh, rutabaga, crushed pistachio and faux parmesan; vegetable fried rice with crushed peanuts and ginger soy sauce; mac and “no cheese” with cauliflower puree and nutritional yeast, roasted mushrooms and black truffle. A “buffalo wheat meat” dish features “not so hot” sauce, lentils, carrots, celery, cauliflower and tofu-based ranch.
For those looking for non-vegan fare, the Wards built in a menu section called “viable fauna,” with sustainable, responsibly raised or caught proteins, meats and seafoods like wild shrimp, grass-fed beef, organic chicken breast and soft-cooked Connecticut farm eggs.
“It’s more accessible and inclusive for vegan and non-vegans to eat together,” says Jaime Ward.
Desserts ($7 to $9) are decadent even without butter, cream and eggs, like a chocolate avocado pudding with burnt banana, carrot cake with macadamia nut frosting and a “fried PB&J.” Flora also offers fresh juices, elixirs, smoothies, vegan milks and coconut water.
The bar’s “boozy refreshments” ($11 to $14) offers the chance to even drink your veggies: cocktails incorporating organic spirits with vegetable juices like carrot and kale-ginger. A seasonal apple cider sangria with spiced rum, apples and pears has been popular, along with a “bloodless Mary” featuring sriracha verde and cucumber.
Flora also offers sustainable and organic wines, organic beers and ciders, in addition to several Connecticut beers. Happy hour, available Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m., features specials on snacks, beer, wine and cocktails.
Flora is at 45 Raymond Road in West Hartford. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. 860-216-5992, floraweha.net.