So many families have their favorite weekend breakfast/brunch routines. We pull out the waffle iron. We drive to the doughnut shop that daddy used to go to with his dad. Sometimes we do the same thing out of habit, and other times it is because there is no better place to go for some weekend scrambled eggs, doughnuts or a couple of stacks of pancakes. Then there are special occasion brunches with friends or family in celebration of a birthday or other milestone. Whatever your weekend routine is, there is something about sitting down to brunch that lightens everybody's load and let's everyone escape the weekly routine and rejuvenate a little while.
Whether you have guests in town, you just want to try something new with your family (tots to teenagers all will be happy here), or you are celebrating something, Flora has the perfect brunch. The setting is gorgeous, sunny, airy and just the right amount of "chic." After six years sans brunch, Chef Sargent brings you a well orchestrated buffet and fresh, delicious, palate-pleasing brunch.
On our way to brunch with a birthday mom, a newborn, three more children under 10, and a quartet of friends and family, I was slightly dreading the experience. Could Flora be a bit much (too fancy, too formal) for our crew? Once we were escorted to our table, and had settled in, I was so glad to see the buffet ready for hungry little mouths, and so excited for the "to order" eggs with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, and I was able to relax a little. And then ... the fresh doughnut holes/beignets came coated in sugar and just the right amount of cinnamon. Heavenly.
After enjoying a magical brunch, first I had to think of another excuse to head there for brunch again, and then I decided to get the scoop on Flora from Chef Bob Sargent. Sunday brunch is from 11 a.m. to 2 pm and at $17 per person with children paying their age, you don't really need an excuse to head there for brunch.
What are some of your favorite childhood memories around food?
I always liked to bake, from age seven or eight. I had a neighbor who encouraged me and actually had me enter a cake in a competition at an agricultural fair. I got an honorable mention, most likely because I was an 11-year-old boy. We didn't eat 'gourmet food' by any means, but my mom always had frsh veggies and salad. My dad grew up in a farming community and always grew some stuff in the back yard. When I was a bit older, my friends and I would make pizza and elaborate sandwiches during the hungry teenage years.
What summer fruits are vegetables do you look forward to this time of year? Which local farms do you source them from?
Peaches are a big favorite. I really like everything. Tomatoes, of course, greens of all types - particularly the stuff from the Hmong Farmers. I like corn, but don't LOVE it. I buy as much as I can from my friend Steve Parker, who farms in Lunenburg and sells in CSAs and at the Central Square and Union Square Markets. Nicewicz Family Farm is a favorite for fruits. Kimball's Fruit Farm and Dick's Market Garden always have a lot of nice stuff.
Flora is one of the few restaurants at the local Farmer's Markets. Why?
I came to the Arlington Market as a purveyor because there was no baked or prepared foods from town and the market manager asked me to come. When the market in Lexington opened, they were looking for someone who was making some prepared foods that featured local stuff. They saw what we were doing in Arlington and invited us to their market.We go to the market to make friends more than as a business proposition. It's fun and gets me doing different things.
Are you a sweet or savory brunch person?
Savory. I do enjoy the occasional French toast with fruit though.
If you are entertaining at home which meal do you most like to serve? Why?
Casual dinner. I like making soup and salads, perhaps something grilled with a lot of side dishes. I like the accompaniments more than the 'main dish' as a rule. Variety and self-service!
When you design your menus where does inspiration come for most of your dishes?
At this point, I'm most inspired by traditional dishes and trying to tweak them in a slightly different way. I believe innovation in cooking is highly overrated. As I get older, my cooking style is more interested in making a great corn, bacon and leek chowder than trying to create interest with elaborate presentation or adding (to me) superfluous ingredients. We also have a 15-year repertoire of menus and dishes that are ripe for revisiting - often with a new approach. We have wonderful, loyal long-term customers who let their preferences be known, but who are also supportive of innovation. We are lucky in that regard.
Do you have any favorite Arlington spots to grab a bite to eat?
As you might expect, I'm pressed for time quite a bit when the hunger overtakes me. My wife and two kids are great eaters, so we are happy eating all kinds of foods. We go to Blue Ribbon, Sabatinos, Zocalo, Za, The hot pot next door (Little Q Hot Pot - Another family favorite of ours), Quebrada for croissants. I don't get to go to dinner places that much, but have great admiration for Tryst, Scutra and Olivio's. I've heard great things about the new owners of Buona Vita and look forward to checking it out.
Flora is located at 190 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington.