By Bob Tagert
Magnolia’s on King-Southern Immersion Cuisine
The recently opened Magnolia’s on King restaurant is fast becoming one of Old Town’s most popular restaurants, and it all starts on the second floor. Mixologist Zach Faden has brought his many talents to help create signature cocktails for those visiting Magnolia’s. After studying history and philosophy at American University and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland Zach, took a position with the Defense Intelligence Agency. In time he applied his research skills and methodologies to his passion of the history and culture of drinking. The rest they say is history as Zach turned his hobby into his current profession. In keeping with the craft cocktail and beer craze, Magnolia’s is keeping pace with all of the trendy whiskeys and beers. If you are a fan, you won’t be disappointed at their offerings. In fact, they have thirteen in-house “signature” cocktails – there has to be something to your liking on that list.
Although the bar has only about six seats there are two high-tops each seating as many as four customers. The Palm Lounge, which is adjacent to the bar, is a very casual gathering place with comfortable seating that includes a couch and upholstered arm chairs in addition to tradition tables and chairs. It’s like sitting in someone’s front room. This makes this area a great place for visiting with friends. There is a fireplace that will be a welcome friend once the winter winds begin to blow. While we were there they had a violinist playing Christmas carols. While we like violin music, a little goes a long way – sort of like bagpipes. I am thinking that a nice acoustic guitar would be the ticket for this space and I bet that’s what we will see in the future.
The dining room, located on the first floor, is well lit and decorated in a modern fashion with about 45 seats, which also includes booths for a more intimate experience. Executive chef Brian Rowe has brought his twelve years of experience working in restaurants from California to Lyon, France to spearheading the opening of Magnolia’s. Rowe believes in supporting and showcasing the finest local products, promoting healthy choices and welcoming guests to Old Town with southern hospitality at the forefront.
The dinner menu is very manageable with enough choices and variety to satisfy just about anyone. The appetizers cover a pleasant range from Hot Pimento Cheddar Dip, a Charcuterie Plate and Stuffed Dates to Poached Pears with Dark Cherry Balsamic. We tried the Pimento dip, which was spectacular and served with fresh biscuits. The dip is as close to perfect as you are going to get and the biscuits are very good and very fresh making them hard to actually “dip”. The combination of flavors was great but I have never been a big biscuit fan and would have rather seen the dip accompanied by some sort of cracker or sliced baguette.
Dinner entrees consist of Smoked Chicken Pot Pie, Magnolia’s Shrimp and Grits, Wagyu NY Strip, Pumpkin and Squash Risotto, Pan Seared Duck Breast, Redfish and Grits and Roasted Lamb. Proud of my early days on my Grandfather’s farm in Georgia, I have a passion for grits, but it is for those creamy white grits that go so well with fried fish or breakfast. The smoked cheddar grits that came with the Redfish were very good and tasty, but clearly my taste runs in a different direction. The Redfish that sat atop the grits was absolutely fantastic. A firm white fish with a sort of blackened outer texture with perfect seasoning. This was a real taste treat that begged to be savored. My partner opted for Magnolia’s version of one of her favorites – Smoked Chicken Pot Pie. Keeping in line with the “southern” theme, the pie was topped with the biscuit dough rather than a baked in traditional pie crust. This made for an interesting texture but a very nice flavor. The smoked chicken adds a nice twist as well. The dessert menu has four fabulous sounding offerings: Apple, Rhubarb and Fennel Oat Crisp – Coconut Rum Cake – Bananas Foster Bread Pudding – Mom’s Hot Fudge Sundae. As always, we get carried away with the main part of the meal and are stuffed before we get to dessert. The next time we are there, I am ordering the Bananas Foster Pudding right out of the gate! Who says you can’t start with dessert.
The wine list is not huge with eleven whites and twelve reds, however, the prices are quite reasonable for this type of establishment ranging from $35 for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to $107 for a White Blend from South Africa. I particularly like – and applaude – Magnolia’s efforts to carry some very good Virginia wines including an Ox Eye Riesling, a Barboursville Reserve Viognier and a Jefferson Vineyards Cabernet Franc.
Located at 703 King Street, this is a place that you should try if you haven’t already. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:00 pm and Sunday 11:00 am to 3:00 pm for brunch. They are closed on Monday.