November 2017

Flora’s Italian Café

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Arugula, tomatoes, peppers, figs, lemons… Branco and Flora Raiac, owners of Flora’s Italian Café on Hilton Head Island spend much of their free time tending to the ingredients found in the dishes and on the plates at their 14-year-old, beloved restaurant. “Right now, we’re waiting for the lemons,” Flora said, “I think we have over 300 Meyer lemons on one tree.” Harvesting fruits and vegetables grown at their Bluffton home helps to inform the story of their journey to the Lowcountry—a journey that began in Romania, where Branco Raiac first found his passion for creating outstanding flavors.

Graduating from culinary school in Romania in 1970, Branco began working in kitchens as a teenager. When he brought his wife and two young sons to America in 1983, he brought with him a history of working in restaurants where the waiters wore tuxedos and bow ties and meticulously memorized the menus; tables were covered in linen, and orders were hollered to chef from memory. Landing in Elizabeth, New Jersey, it was his ability to speak Italian that connected Branco with Italian cuisine.

Along their path to the Lowcountry, Flora Raiac worked in restaurants as well, washing dishes, cleaning, and eventually learning to make desserts. “When my husband decided to buy a restaurant, he said I was going to make the desserts,” she said. “I started with two or three, and then people brought me books and I started trying out new things. Now I love it. I do everything here. I love to clean, I answer the phone, I make desserts, I clean some more.”

The menu at Flora’s is replete with deeply flavorful dishes from pasta to pesce to pollo, and more. Customers are delighted to find classic Italian offerings such as shrimp and scallops over linguine with their house marinara (so good, customers have asked for it on the side of nearly every dish on the menu), or Pasta Fagioli, alongside dishes with Branco’s charmed touch like Gamberi Portofino—shrimp sautéed in pink brandy sauce with sun dried tomatoes.

TIP: The real secret to enjoying Flora’s is getting on their call list. Highlighting one of Branco’s specials, that may even include something delightful from his home country, getting a heads-up call from Flora requires only a reservation to experience Flora’s at its very best. “We are an Italian restaurant and we focus on Italian cuisine, but right now I’m doing some stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers, and Hungarian goulash,” Branco said. “I’m going to tell everybody. Flora has a list and she calls to let them know.”

With both their sons at home, their youngest, also Branco, works alongside his parents. “He’s an excellent cook and bartender and server, and he knows how to clean, like me,” Flora said with a smile. With a passion for the ingredients, providing their customers with a fine dining experience, and family, it seems the long journey to the Lowcountry makes for something very special at Flora’s Italian Café.

Flora’s is located at 841 William Hilton Parkways, South Island Square, Hilton Head Island and is open Monday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. For reservations or more information, please call (843) 842-8200 or visit florasitaliancafe.com.

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