The Place:Cafe Flora, 2901 E. Madison St., 325-9100, MADISON PARK
The Hours: Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m in the bar.
The Digs: Cafe Flora's plant-filled interior is lovely but it can feel a bit drafty without the bustling brunch or dinner crowd, and happy hour business can be light, so there's an "in-between meal periods" shuffling feeling to Flora's HH. Spotty service can be an issue, but if you're not too uptight--come on folks, it's just food--Flora's fun visual distractions (like the re-purposed wood crates for bar shelving, up-cycled Mason jar light fixtures, and the children's play area that tots beeline for as soon as they set eyes upon it) make it worth a visit. And, of course, the food (we'll get to that). Things start to pick up towards 6 p.m, and happy hour guests have a good view of the activity from the few tables dedicated for them on a platform just off the bar.
The Deal: With the purchase of a beverage--happy hour specials include a $3 featured beer, a $6 cocktail special and house wine, and well drinks at $1 off--select appetizers are half-off. My boyfriend and I tried the Schooner Exact Golden Ale and the Waterbrook Merlot, both good.
The Verdict: For vegetarians who have long since tired of the token hummus platter and uninspired piles of cheese at other happy hours, Cafe Flora's HH is a gold mine. Their generous bucket of yam fries, with house made cayenne aioli (not too spicy) are floppy little sticks of yammy flavor, and at $2.25, they're a better deal--both in value and quality--than a large order of Mickey D's golden rods of gut rot. Flora's signature Quesadilla Verde--a roasted yam, pumpkin seed-cilantro scallion spread, and pepper jack filled corn tortilla, served with a spicy salsa and lime creme fraiche--is small, but hearty and robust ($3.50). And nothing's off the menu for veggies here, so while there's not too much in the way of variety--four items on my last visit--vegetarians can feel like queens or kings of the castle, all on a pauper's budget. For those poor, meat-loving friends unwillingly dragged along: remember that Cafe Flora's artisanal, mostly-organic, scratch-made offerings are far more healthy than the buffalo wings you would be gobbling elsewhere, so please shut up.
Don't miss Grillaxin' with Tiffany Ran for an interview with Cafe Flora's Janine Doran here.