Flora, the newest venture of chef/owner KC Ward, officially opens in West Hartford on Tuesday, Oct 17.
By Ronni Newton
The organic and plant-based aura begins the moment a diner steps into the subtly cinnamon-scented foyer of Flora at 45 Raymond Rd. in West Hartford.
The white letters of the restaurant’s sign are highlighted on a green-patterned background – made completely from living moss.
KC Ward, a West Hartford native who is also chef/owner of the highly-successful Rooster Co. in Newington, wanted to immediately create an engaging experience, and procured the living art from Green Up, a Stamford-based company that has done similar installations in New York City and Fairfield County. He said the moss won’t need replacement, merely spritzing if it seems to be getting dry.
Flora is located on the second floor of the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 building – in space that was already a restaurant but for the past 10 years was run by the Legion. The restaurant space is accessible from an elevator or diners can follow the flower mural painted by local artist Andres Montiel and walk up the flight of stairs.
Enter the restaurant and you’ll find another nod to the restaurant’s organic nature – trays of micro-greens that will find their way into dishes and drinks. “Micro-greens lose their vitality so quickly, and to have them fresh is really great,” Ward said.
It’s no secret that West Hartford has a large number of restaurant, but Ward’s plant-based concept makes Flora unique from anything other place in town.
“I’m just so excited to be able to share this new approach to plant-based food, just celebrating vegetables as opposed to being part of an exclusive ‘club,'” Ward said.
Ward said his goal is to make plant-based dining approachable for everyone. “For someone who is a foodie, not just a vegetarian or vegan,” he said. There’s something for everyone on the menu.
“I’m not trying to be exclusively vegan, I’m trying to be accessible to a variety of people – vegans or omnivores looking for a healthy meal,” Ward said. Those who are lactose free or gluten free also have plenty of choices. “Healthy doesn’t have to be ‘not delicious.'”
Some of Ward’s top suggestions include the “mac and no-cheese” (whole wheat pasta, cauliflower puree, portabella, chive, and black truffle) and “spaghetti with no meatballs” (the meatless balls are lentil-based and the sauces is cashews, roasted tomato, and zucchini).
The olive oil tempeh (with pole beans, potato, turmeric drops, sunflower seeds) should appeal to those who do like meat. “It will turn omnivores on,” Ward said.
Ward also highly recommends the heirloom squash – with apple butter, black walnut, spiced almond cream, pumpkin seeds, farro, and spinach.
Entrees are $13-$19.
Starters ($5-$6) include butternut squash soup and rattlesnake bean chili, and an extensive variety of unique salads ($7-$10).
Small plates range from hummus with baby vegetables ($8) to smashed avocado on whole grain bread (with smoked paprika, hulled hemp seeds, and orange peel spice, $8), to BBQ tofu with slaw, butternut puree, scallions, and crispy onion ($9).
For those who would like fish, chicken, or meat as part of their meal can absolutely do that at Flora. The menu’s “viable fauna” – all organic – includes small plates like crispy calimari and hay-smoked mussels. Diners can also choose additions to dishes like miso arctic char, peppered sea bass, sauteed wild shrip, slow-roasted pasture-raised pork, grass-fed beef sirloin, or a Young Farms soft egg.
Chicken – the mainstay of Ward’s Rooster Co. in Newington – is also on the menu. He said he’s using the same spice blend to brine and season, but the chicken will miss the benefit of being slow-roasted on the rotisserie. He is, however, excited to be using a new combi oven that combines steam and dry heat that cooks very evenly.
Wines and spirits served at Flora are made from sustainable and organic ingredients, too. The natural wines contain no added sugars and no sulfites. It’s a cleaner flavor, he said, and the lack of sulfites may keep some from getting wine headaches.
Flora doesn’t have draft beer, but does offer a variety by the bottle.
Minimal structural changes were made to the American Legion space, most notably was an expansion of the kitchen, Ward said.
The initial plans were to have Flora’s bar in the front of the restaurant, making use of the American Legion’s existing bar. But then Ward learned that having a bar in the are of the entrance requires a cafe type of liquor license not permitted in West Hartford. So he repurposed that bar as a juice bar, and built a new “booze bar” in the back room.
The change in plans delayed the opening while Ward had the restaurant design revamped, but in the end he’s excited about how it turned out. “I really love the idea that we have a juice bar. It’s really a unique offering that we don’t have in the center,” Ward said.
The juice bar – where diners can also eat – features fruit and vegetable juices, as well as organic coffees and teas and other soft drinks. “We use all house-made soda syrups,” Ward said, adding that he worked hard on the right recipe for cola flavor, a combination of black tea, molasses, coriander, and the zest of lemon, lime, and orange.
The juice bar area flows right into the dining room, which has a combination of high top, table, and banquette seating. The existing woodwork was maintained, but light-colored fabric and tabletops gives the space a much brighter and airier feel.
The back room, which boasts cozy seating around a working fireplace that will be a definite appeal during the colder months, is where the rest of the approximately 70 seats are located.
Flora’s regular bar is now in the back room of the restaurant, but the retooling of the plans means that Ward can’t just close off the back room when the American Legion meets because then he wouldn’t have the bar accessible. Instead, Flora will be closed to the public on Mondays. Post 96, which still owns the building, will use the restaurant for its monthly meetings, and so will the Lions Club.
Ward said that the American Legion has been great to work with on the project. A lighted display case with Post 96’s memorabilia remains in the room, and certificates still hang on the wall.
Ward said that other organizations can rent out the space on Mondays when it’s not being used by one of the clubs.
Flora will open to the public for dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The first week will be dinner only, from 5-10 p.m. and happy hour in the back room beginning at 4 p.m.
Lunch service will begin the second week, when Flora will open at 11:30 a.m. The lunch menu is still being finalized, Ward said, and will include a vegetable flatbread with naan, hummus wrap, and “peanut butter” and jelly made with pistachio butter and served on house-made bread.
Flora, Ward said, is a “hybrid, progressive approach. I think, hope, it will really resonate with people.”
For more information call 860-216-5992. The website, floraweha.net, will have more detail added soon.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!