In their occasional Bread & Butter column, Linda and Uri Guttman review dining experiences in and around Cambridge.
We have to start this review with a disclaimer: We have been going to flora since it opened in 1996 and have become friendly with the owners, Bob and Mary Jo Sargent. Bob is the head chef and Mary Jo runs the front of the house. The two have created a warm, inviting restaurant where we always feel at home and well taken care of.
Before flora opened in the old Arlington Five Cents Savings Bank in East Arlington in 1996, Arlington had very restrictive alcohol licensing. In 1994, the town liberalized beer and wine licensing and later made it easier to have a bar and a full liquor license. Flora was one of the first beneficiaries of this, starting the trend of Arlington becoming a destination restaurant town.
When you enter flora, you come into the old bank building with its very high ceilings and see the open kitchen on the right. This part of the restaurant was the original one. It has a good number of tables and even seating in the old bank vault in the back of the room. Two doorways on the right let you into the expanded section added in about 2002.
The space had been an auto parts store, and renovations were extensive. Bob and Mary Jo created a wonderful space featuring lower ceilings, a carpeted floor, lots more room for dining, a beautiful bar, a special area for private events, a large fish tank and two spacious bathrooms. (Ladies, visit the bathroom even if you don’t have to go, because you can see the other side of the fish tank while in there.)
In 2011 flora added a bar menu, which is available only in the café area. (You can still order from the main menu in the café.) The highlight of the bar menu is the cheeseburger. The meat is of the highest quality, and Bob really knows how to prepare a burger to your liking. It was dripping with juices and full of beefy flavor. It comes with lettuce, tomato and a slice of Vermont cheddar and either hand-cut fries or onion strings. Extras on the cheeseburger include bacon, sautéed wild mushrooms and caramelized onions for $2 each. The burger is $12.
About those onion strings: When we started coming to flora, onion strings were featured occasionally as a side dish. On a few occasions, we even ordered them off the menu! We are happy to see them as a regular on the bar menu, and the fries measure up to their quality.
Other items on the bar menu include a small plate of curried deviled eggs ($3), lobster tacos ($15) and crispy calamari ($8). The bar menu enables one to dine at flora at a different price bracket.
On the dinner menu there is always a nice selection of starters, medium plates, entrées and desserts. The menu varies on a seasonal basis. The restaurant’s website is usually up to date with current offerings. Some of our favorite starter dishes have included curried squash soup with toasted sunflower seeds, cream of wild mushroom soup, arugula salad with Great Hill blue cheese and a savory flan.
Some memorable entrées include roast chicken with creamy mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and pot roast with a horseradish cream sauce and vegetables.
Last year we celebrated our first Thanksgiving at flora. It was the first time they opened for the holiday. Linda ordered the turkey dinner, which was prepared perfectly and included mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing and delicious gravy. Uri had a perfectly grilled sirloin steak, as he was going to prepare turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner the next day. Flora always has an excellent selection of vegetarian dishes as well.
In all the meals we have had there, Uri can recall only one he didn’t like. That is a very good batting average, and the reason we keep coming back. That and the onion strings!