First Taste: Flower Child in Bethesda
The fast-casual restaurant serves fresh, vegetable-centric fare
Organic Kale Salad
Photos by Matt McDonald
Wildwood Shopping Center didn’t need another lunch spot—the Old Georgetown Road strip mall already boasts a Chopt Creative Salad Co., Fish Taco and Le Pain Quotidien—but it’s clear from Wednesday’s lunch crowd (and the packed parking lot) that people are excited about the opening of Flower Child. A woman dining next to me claims she’s already a repeat customer, says she comes all the time.
This is the second Montgomery County spot for the restaurant brand with the slogan “Healthy Food for Happy People”; a Rockville location opened last November. Fox Restaurant Concepts is also in the midst of opening a Zinburger in Silver Spring.
Like other fast-casual restaurants, patrons order at the counter, take a number to their table and food runners bring out the meals. Flower Child takes it up a notch with a host stand right where you walk in. A cheery hostess greets me and my dining companion and gives us the lay of the land.
On trend, Flower Child has exposed ductwork and unfinished, concrete floors, which amplify the din of the crowded restaurant. Wicker chairs and green pendant lamps soften the utilitarian feel, likewise for the colorful mural that reads “live more/ worry less.” A manager, Jasmina Kamdar, tells me an Arizona-based artist does all of Flower Child’s drip walls, but that a local artist painted the peace sign artwork around the corner. Rustic props line a green shelf along two walls of the restaurant: watering cans, birdhouses, lanterns. Flowers, the restaurant’s namesake, dot each table.
Food and drink
As far as beverages, there’s a bounty. There’s fresh juice, iced tea and lemonade, along with kombucha and cold brew on tap. White and red wine, on tap and bottled, local beer and even homemade sangria are available for dinner patrons (and really fun lunch goers). I order the Rose Petal Lemonade and enjoy its smack.
The restaurant serves salads, plates, bowls and wraps, and even a few starters, including a daily soup and (of course) avocado toast. Salads, $9; plates, $9.50; and bowls, $10.25; come standard vegetarian. Adding a protein will cost you $4 to $7, and you can choose from tofu, chicken, steak or salmon. Most salads and bowls contain seed, grain or dairy protein, so it’s not always necessary to add on.
The menu spans cuisines, ranging from the Mediterranean Quinoa salad to the Spicy Coconut Curry bowl. I order the latter, interested in a fast-casual take on a Thai classic, and add “organic non-GMO” tofu.
The tofu itself doesn’t have much flavor, save for a generic grilled taste. My dining companion points out that the bland taste of proteins must be intentional, as they’re paired with a variety of dishes. He pokes his “all-natural” chicken around his plate, favoring the tangy, Gluten Free Mac and Cheese and Indian Spiced Cauliflower. Dates and toasted almonds complement the turmeric-soaked cauliflower so well it’s hard to believe it’s fast casual.
I’m also a fan of my Spicy Coconut Curry bowl, which has, as the title warns, a kick. I’m impressed the fast-casual spot delivered on its promise of heat. Flower Child adds a twist on the green curry bowl with bites of grilled pineapple, a welcome addition of acid so that, even as a citrus-fiend, I don’t squeeze my lime wedges over my bowl until I’m already halfway through.
I’m surprised to find sweet corn and sugar snap peas in the dish, as they weren’t included in the menu description that detailed all the other accompaniments: bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, yellow onion, Thai herbs (read: regular, old mint) and organic brown rice. Kamdar, the manager, explains that they’ve reached out to corporate; they’ve had trouble with allergic (and surprised!) patrons. On the whole, the bowl is satisfying and definitely worth ordering again. Only the eggplant, some bites of which are tough, is disappointing.
One dish we order goes neglected. The Organic Kale salad is served with an impressive roster of ingredients: pink grapefruit, organic apple, black currant, smoked almond and white cheddar. The apple cider vinaigrette is well mixed and massaged into the coarse kale and red cabbage (another ingredient left off the menu description). But the salad could use more fruit or a dash more vinegar—bites of just kale and cabbage, of which there are many, are bland.
We share a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie for desert. With its dark chocolate chips, coconut flakes and cashew flour, it satisfies even these regular gluten eaters.
The cover of Flower Child’s paper menu reads “gluten lite” and “local produce.” While I can confirm the gluten claim with just a quick scan of the menu, whether or not they source local is more opaque. The restaurant doesn’t list its vendors (as salad-chain Sweetgreen does), and when I ask Kamdar about their local sourcing, she says, “We’re still kind of working on it.”
If not local, the food is at least fresh. Kamdar tells me they don’t have a freezer or microwave in house.
The staff is polite and eager to please. Managers work the floor during our visit, apologizing to patrons who have to wait a little longer than expected for fast-casual. Our food takes 20 minutes to come out, which gives us enough time to sample the fresh juices and tea. (Hooray for free refills!) When a nearby diner receives her meal salted, something she’d asked them to omit, Kamdar quickly removes the plate and offers to comp the meal.
Go or skip?
If you’re able to take a long lunch and want something more elevated than Chipotle, &pizza or Chopt, go. But don’t come here expecting to conduct a lunch meeting—the place gets loud during the lunch rush. The beer and wine offerings also make this a suitable spot for a low-maintenance dinner.
Flower Child, 10205 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, 301-664-4971, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily.
Leigh McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.