On the southern edge of the Arboretum in Madison Park, there is this cluster of shops, restaurants, and bakeries, and it just gives off a very casual, friendly vibe. No matter what city I visit when I travel, I always wish I had more time to explore a shop, or grab a bite, particularly at a bakery. Amid the hustle and bustle of this section of Seattle, dead in the center of it all, is Cafe Flora.
The place lives up to its garden-themed namesake. When you walk in, you can see two seating areas – a greenhouse space, full of palm trees, and the more traditional restaurant/bar space with greenery lined up beneath the window.
There are air plants at every table. If anyone needs to understand why people have better moods by being around plants, they should come here for lunch. I mean, it’s hard to not be happy just by walking in.
The rest of the space is welcoming, too, from the salvaged wood bar and local art, to the community event board by the restrooms. If you’ve been to Portage Bay Cafe and wanted less pancake and more trees, you’ve found it.
I went in for both breakfast and lunch, as I was curious about both. At 11 am on a weekday, I was there pretty much by myself; by the end of my meal it was nearly packed. The music started out with reggae, then gently moved towards an eclectic orchestral/folk mix.
I started with their cringer ($3), a cranberry-ginger cider made on site. Garnished with one large slice of ginger, you can smell it all before you take your first sip. It’s actually pretty mild on the ginger/spiciness scale – it did build, but not so much that I wanted to stop drinking. It’s refreshing, in that tart, earthy way that good quality cranberry juice can be.
The meal started with a cinnamon roll ($5.50). I love this type – the bready exterior with a fluffy interior, covered in soft spiced walnuts, heavily scented with cinnamon. With the cream cheese frosting and a sweet sauce and the nuts, it got a bit too sweet at times, but you could slather on as little of the frosting as you liked. It was what you wished your family made for Sunday brunch.
The seasonal watermelon salad ($10) was a surprise. On paper, it sounded mild and sweet, with sunflower sprouts, watermelon, and daikon. The warning should have been the kefir lime dressing, but that first bite of peppery, vinegared daikon was a wake-up call. Taking a composed bite of the salad, though, was a balanced mix of savory and sweet. I’d love more melon in the salad, as I felt like I needed to cut through that first bite of daikon, but it’s still a gorgeous combination of peppery, leafy greens, and crunch from the cashews and noodles.
I had the peach and halloumi sandwich, another seasonal menu option, with yam fries. The fries are a darker, chewier version of the bright, fluffy fries popping up all over Seattle right now. (This is a trend I wholeheartedly endorse.) With a bit of spice, they’re still wonderful, but take getting used to if you’re expecting what Veggie Grill serves. The peach sandwich is worth a trek over before they switch to the fall menu. It’s a softer bread, a toasted foccacia, with almond-arugula pesto, mint, and that halloumi cheese with grilled peaches. Yes, it’s a sweet sandwich, but it’s mellow and fresh and light. Ignore the serious feel-good part about supporting all sorts of local farmers in one bite. Ignore that most people want sandwiches to be full-on savory. Just go and get this sandwich. At $12, you can easily share, because it’s a large sandwich for one.
Of course, as it’s me, I tried dessert. The campfire marquise ($8.50) is one I want just more of. It’s a torte-like chocolate mousse with slightly charred, toasted marshmallow on top, hiding a vanilla pastry cream center. I wanted extra pastry cream, or maybe a bowl of it with more of the burnt marshmallow on top. I have my priorities.
As I sat between courses, pondering my day, all I could think of was bringing my friends here for the ridiculously awesome-sounding brunch. It’s a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, but I don’t feel like that’s a reason to limit carnivores from trying their impressive menu. It’s full of nice people, nice things, and food that just looks and feels good. I left full, but content, and that’s the best review I can give a restaurant that gave me that much food. I can’t wait for an excuse to return.
2901 East Madison Street
Seattle, WA 98112