Here, Eat This

First Look: Flower Child Uptown

Eat your daily requirements in one salad.
Eat your daily requirements in one salad. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
It seems like we Houstonians are always skirting around construction, whether we be in Downtown, Midtown, Uptown or south of town. The suburbs aren't much better. From my home, I can grab the Sam Houston Tollway toward the Galleria and be flying along at 70  miles an hour, then hit 610 like a runner hits the proverbial wall. That was the case when I headed out for a follow-up look at Flower Child at Uptown Park. Fortunately, KPFT was churning out some Beatles tunes, so it felt proper to be heading toward a restaurant called Flower Child while jamming to "Get Back". And yes, I like to belt out the part about "Sweet Loretta", since that's my name. I think I'm a woman, but maybe I'm just another man.

After a fairly brief tangle with orange cones and lanes to nowhere, I made it to the Uptown Park strip center, dodging a few dozers and front-end loaders before finding a parking spot.

click to enlarge Hometown spirit in Houston. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Hometown spirit in Houston.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I was met with a line of other hungry folks, even though I thought I would miss the lunch rush at 1:30 p.m. Odds are, many of these people were probably ditching the office for the rest of the day since it was Friday. There's a cute little stand outside the entrance to Flower Child with complimentary cucumber water for those who want to stay hydrated.

The first Houston location of Flower Child opened September 12.  Many residents of the Bayou City have previously tried the two Austin spots and another in Dallas, so were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the clean-eating, farm to table restaurant. Flower Child is another successful feather in restaurateur Sam Fox's cap. His company, Fox Restaurant Concepts has more than a dozen successful restaurant concepts, including North Italia, which opened a Houston location in 2015. And while Flower Child is more hipster than hippie, it offers some wonderfully tasty options for vegans, vegetarians and those with special dietary needs, without leaving the carnivores completely out of the loop.

I first visited Flower Child with my favorite hippie chick, who loves tasting new foods more than anyone I have ever seen. She would be every restaurants' favorite critic, since she tends to find almost everything "amazing". The sunshine-y atmosphere of Flower Child was right up her alley. Our one obstacle was the ordering process itself. The fast-casual concept features counter service, which can be off-putting to indecisive people like us. We have been known, much to the irritation of our spouses, to hem and haw over a menu before ordering plates that we both can sample. Fortunately, I had made up my mind beforehand by looking at the menu online. My companion needed a minute. There are menus available to peruse while in line. And that line can be pretty extensive, though it moves fairly fast. The staff of smiling faces eases the wait.

click to enlarge Avocado toast is ubiquitous, but it's still damn good. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Avocado toast is ubiquitous, but it's still damn good.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I chose the three vegetable plate ($9) with added grass-fed steak ($6). That may seem a bit pricey for a fast-casual concept, but many of the ingredients are local, organic, or sustainably raised or farmed. Anyone who has shopped at a Farmers Market or Whole Foods knows that the cost of carefully sourced ingredients can add up.

My companion chose the vegan poke ($9), albeit with a salmon filet on top. We decided to split an appetizer plate of avocado toast. We ordered our drinks, a sparkling kombucha for her and a sparkling wine for me and found a table in the bright, window-lit dining room.

Everything is new and fresh. The decor is fairly minimal, with green plants circling the ceiling, a single flower on each table, a few inspirational signs and a pleasing green paint trim on the windows.

click to enlarge The kitchen is hopping at Flower Child. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The kitchen is hopping at Flower Child.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The concrete floor doesn't do much to offset the noise level, but it just adds to the energy of all these healthy, vibrant looking people. The servers are mostly young, attractive women in skinny jeans and blowsy, peasant style floral tops. The open kitchen bustled with more people than I could count. In keeping with a successful concept, the employees all seem to be enjoying their new jobs.

My friend found her sparkling kombucha to be okay, but not as carbonated as she expected. It does come in at a pretty steep price ($6). When we received our avocado toast, it too seemed a bit expensive ($7), but it was delicious. It's basically one slice of whole grain bread, sliced into three soldiers, served with a good portion of smashed avocado, sprinkled with chopped boiled egg, white cheddar and black sesame seeds. Personally, I couldn't really taste the cheese and I don't see the need for the sesame seeds, either.

click to enlarge Vegan poke goes pescetarian. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Vegan poke goes pescetarian.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
When our mains arrived, my friend's was definitely on the more colorful side with the mix of different veggies contrasting with the pink of the salmon. She is into bowls (the food kind, not the weed kind) and I have seen her put together a staggering quantity of ingredients in one dish. The vegan poke was perfect for her. She really liked the marinated beets (not my thing) and the mix of avocado, brown rice, pickled mushrooms, cucumber, radish, wasabi peas and spicy ponzu. I tasted the salmon, which was well-cooked, if a bit under-seasoned.

I felt that to be the case with my steak as well. It was served medium rare (though the menu says medium) and was very tender. It seems to me that the kitchen has a light hand with the salt and pepper due to the fact that the protein choices usually end up in salads, wraps and veggie bowls, so much of the flavor will come from the dressings and other ingredients.

click to enlarge You don't have to be a veg-head to enjoy Flower Child. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
You don't have to be a veg-head to enjoy Flower Child.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The organic smashed potatoes were fine, but it was the spicy Japanese eggplant and the sweet corn quinoa that really stood out. The eggplant was perfectly caramelized, with the right ratio of onion, jalapenos and cashews. Okay, I could have used more cashews, but that's because I'm a glutton when it comes to nuts. Swirling the tender pieces of steak into the spicy sauce from the eggplant was heavenly.

As far as the sweet corn quinoa, where have you been all my life? I know as a food writer, I should not admit that I have never been on the quinoa train, but when I dine out, it just seems like a boring option. I cook lots of grains at home, but the quinoa is usually mixed in with other grains. This was a revelation. The corn was well and truly sweet, offset a bit by the tanginess of the Greek yogurt. It's a dish that I would love to eat for breakfast.

We each decided to try a dessert, because it's rare to have someone with you that doesn't mind trading food back and forth. My friend had the lemon muffin and I went for the dark chocolate pudding. The lemon muffin is gluten-free, but I couldn't tell. The lemon zest comes through in a burst of flavor, but it tastes of real lemon, not the fake taste that so often accompanies lemon desserts.

click to enlarge Grab a dessert to-go. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Grab a dessert to-go.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I am not a sweets type of gal, but a little dark chocolate always hits the pleasure spot in my brain. Flower Child's dark chocolate pudding has coconut and sliced almonds. These are a few of my favorite things. Now, so is this pudding.

My second trip was a little less fun since I was on my own. I lined up behind office workers, well-heeled older couples and young moms, most of whom were repeat customers already, though the restaurant has been opened less than three weeks.

I was told a number by a hostess with a clipboard who said to use that number when ordering. The corresponding number sign would be would be on my table after I ordered. I elected to eat on the outdoor patio, because it was one of those rare Houston days under 90 degrees. I ordered my lunch and a Eureka Heights Brewing Company beer on tap, which was served in a jar. I can't remember what flavor, but I remember it was good and cold. I also got a plastic cup of water from the dedicated water system which has (yay!) crushed ice. There were also lemon slices available. It's the little things that make me happy.

click to enlarge A table outside on a not-too humid day in Houston. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
A table outside on a not-too humid day in Houston.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I found my number on a table outside and waited for my meal, seated in a comfy French wicker bistro chair, surrounded by window boxes of fresh herbs and flowers. I checked out the outside condiment and silverware stand and discovered quite a few hot sauces from sriracha to habanero. A toddler made faces at me from his high chair, while the chic couple at the table next to me conversed animatedly, switching easily from English to Spanish, from sentence to sentence. Soon my pretty plate of the vegan ingredient salad arrived with my sliced chicken breast on top. It looked quite lovely.

Unfortunately, it didn't blow me away like the earlier dishes I had. The vegan ingredient salad ($8) was a good-sized serving and I probably would have been okay with just the veggies themselves. The roasted corn pieces were so yummy that I wished there were more in the salad. The chicken looked beautiful, but was just a tad too dry. The lemon-tahini vinaigrette was also a bit on the acidic side. The salad itself was nicely composed, with the sunflower seeds reminding me that I have missed them. I had forgotten how much I like sunflower seeds.

click to enlarge Spicy Japanese eggplant is my new favorite side. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Spicy Japanese eggplant is my new favorite side.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I also ordered a side of the spicy Japanese eggplant. This time, it was not as caramelized or tender. It was still delicious, but paled in comparison to my previous visit.

The one problem with the counter service is not having a dedicated server. I wanted a to-go box for the rest of my salad, but no one ever came by. I didn't want to walk back inside with the plate in my hand searching for an employee, so I just ate a little more until there wasn't enough left to justify a box.

click to enlarge Herbs and flowers help to soften the view of nearby construction. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Herbs and flowers help to soften the view of nearby construction.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Flower Child's founder Sam Fox has had much success with his mostly fast-casual concepts which put an emphasis on quality ingredients and responsible sourcing. Fox Restaurant Concepts will be adding to its Houston portfolio with Blanco Tacos + Tequila in the Galleria very soon. I suspect that Flower Child will expand to include more locations in Houston as well, because it's got a perfect blend for diners wanting healthy dishes that can be tailored to their specific tastes and needs, without sacrificing taste and creativity. The atmosphere, the staff, and the food all add up to a dining experience that makes you feel healthy and happy by osmosis.

Flower Child
1101 Uptown Park Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77056

Open Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.