An artful purveyor of nothing but plant-based cuisine, this 16-seat Jenkintown BYOB cultivates an intimate and inimitable experience
by Bill Donahue

There was a time when being a vegan or vegetarian meant significant sacrifice—forgoing taste and having to accept foodstuffs of curious texture in the quest for a cleaner or, depending on one’s particular social bent, guilt-free lifestyle. That time has come to an end, as evidenced by fine restaurants such as Flora, a small BYOB along the main drag of Jenkintown, brought to you by the folks at the helms of fellow Jenkintown restaurants Forcella and Leila’s Bistro.

Here, chef Max Hosey—himself not a vegan, or even a vegetarian for that matter—is creating some seriously inventive, locally sourced meatless cuisine that one could argue is just as appealing to a carnivores (or, perhaps better put, omnivores) as it is to those who abstain from the consumption of animal flesh. Of the three visits I’ve made to Flora, for example, twice have been with omnivores as my tablemates, once with a vegetarian, and I’m still not sure who liked it more.

Here, Chef Hosey is doing something extraordinary. His pedigree includes time spent in the kitchen of Mica, the Chestnut Hill jewel in the crown of Philadelphia restaurateur Chip Roman, so it’s no surprise the food is so spectacular. The cuisine is hardly Flora’s sole distinction, however. In fact, the first thing you notice when you step through the door is how “cozy” the place is, so intimate you imagine there must be more to it, maybe an upstairs or an anteroom or a subbasement … something. But you would be incorrect—sixteen seats here, not a single more. As far as I’m concerned, the close quarters simply enhance the overall experience.

Disclosure: I am a big fan of plant-based food. That said, I would never suggest that a particular dish is good just because it comes from a plant, especially when said dish comes at what most would consider a premium price point. At three courses for $35, or $40 with a dessert course, Flora by no means offers a cheap date for a BYO, but the experience befits the price tag. The menu remains fairly stable from one week to the next, with regular changes to account for seasonality, and no matter your gustatory preferences, you are sure to discover something here that suits, if not surprises, your palate. 

When many people think of vegan or vegetarian cuisine, they imagine flavorless, gelatinous blocks of tofu or mushy bricks of seitan—things pretending to be meat. Not here. The dishes here star only vegetables and fruits, wonderfully spiced, beautifully plated, to create a flavorful, hefty and, above all, memorable meal. My first two trips to Flora were in January and February, and Chef Hosey excelled at crafting a menu perfect for lifting guests out of the winter doldrums.

My experience began with the persimmon salad, with mission figs and pine nuts—hugely colorful, immensely satisfying. Although the sweet-tasting salad is currently not on the menu, the good folks from Flora tell me it will likely make a return in the fall or winter, when persimmons are more in season. As a second course, the roasted Brussels sprouts with burnt onion marmalade and “sushi rice crisps” were a thoughtfully crafted savory treat, while the pepper pot with rice, peanuts and coconut curry provided a hearty mouthful that sang with subtle notes reminiscent of some of my favorite Indian dishes. Likewise, the royal trumpet mushroom atop a mountain of spiced cauliflower and dried fruit lent a comforting, warming touch to offset the harshness of a cold winter night.

The portions were generous enough though not overly so, making the dessert course—normally an afterthought for yours truly—a welcome sight. The plantains foster, complete with coconut vanilla sorbet and a sprinkling of roasted peanuts, was decent but not a standout. The highlight for me: the beignets with chocolate espresso ganache, a glorious take on the New Orleans staple similar in taste and texture to, say, funnel cake. Delightfully airy, warm and rich without being greasy or sinful, each doughy little fritter was licked with powdered sugar. The dish provided a fitting exclamation point for a meal that was, by all counts, superb.

Aside from the cost per person—cash or check only, by the way—the only other point to consider before heading to Flora would be timing. This is not a meal to be enjoyed on the fly, because the staff staggers the arrival of each course significantly. I see this as a positive, though those who view the act of dining out as some sort of a race to be won might disagree. Just be sure to go with people whose company you appreciate, and bring one or two of your best bottles to enjoy between courses. Also, although Flora does accept walk-ins, considering the fact that a table here comes at a premium, it’s best to make a reservation.

Every job has its share of perks. When you have a job like mine, which requires me to visit restaurants and assess them on the merits of their menu and service, the dining scene can be boiled down rather quickly to two types of establishments: the ones you go to because your job dictates you must; and the places you visit otherwise, simply because you appreciate what they do, because they offer an experience that’s truly distinctive. I’ve been to Flora three times, but once would have sufficed for the formal review, or because I “had to.” I can assure you that I will be going back again soon enough.

307 York Road, Jenkintown
215-779-7945 | florajenkintown.com

Photography by Rob Hall