I’m sitting here about a month after dining at this place, trying to write about it. You know – catching up on the duties that require my journalistic cuisine credibility.
Magnolia’s - in Charleston South Carolina – the so called low country. This is a place we have talked about going to for some time while visiting Charleston. Never made it though. Hell I even bought Susan a cookbook about the place and we have yet to make a dish out of it.
Magnolia’s Authentic Southern Cuisine - Click the link and buy it at Amazon.
So on this trip we had pretty much decided that we were going to eat here at some point. ( remember that thing I said about Susan’s OCD issue ? ) The only question was would we eat here to for lunch or for dinner?
Somehow we decided lunch, was it for the chance to save a little dough, because we happened to be downtown this particular day, or just a combination of both? Well for me it was a combination of both.
Upon entering, the first thing you’ll notice is the very well kept interior. White tablecloths, folded napkins, shiny silverware, bright sunlight shining through the windows. It is a far cry from the dissarray at the Fork You mansion where we have grease stained placemats, spotted utensils, and the shades drawn tight.
We were promptly seated at a space by one of those said windows. I liked it, my table didn’t wobble. And we began to peruse the menu.
The lunch menu didn’t have the item I was looking for on it. You see there was something in the aformentioned cookbook that they talked about a lot (for the record I still forget what that item is and I’m too lazy to get up and go look for it)
So I decided on “BooYaBays” – as Susan will soon correct is spelled “Bouillabaisse“. Or more easily pronounced and better understood – FISH STEW.
The fish stew had shrimp, mussels, fish, shallots, okra ( I like okra – just thinking about it I may make this over the weekend ), and other vegetables.
It was a very pretty looking dish, served to me in a bowl on a plate with a little frilly thing. But when the lady plopped down one of the kids dishes of a Hamburger and Chips, well I start to think to myself. “Did I really want Fish Stew for lunch on a hot day? ” Especially when I could have substituted those chips with french fries?
Therein lies the problem with my meal.
If I was to describe myself in a food way, I would have to say that I’m pretty much a “Meat and Potatoes” type of person. I like all kinds of different food - don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat pretty much anything, and I love Cajun food. But something about red meat and a potato will put a smile on my face.
Now when I’m ordering lunch, I think my default food type is more prevalent in my decision making, thus causing most of my lunch meals to be satisfactory. However like the day we are eating here at Magnolia’s, my default meat and potato food type sometimes takes a back seat and the “let’s be different” pops out.
Well, my BooYaBays, was very good. The problem was that it wasn’t very satisfying. The flavors all blended together in an excellent manner. The seafood taste was great, but not overpowering. Very good fish stew.
But I left hungry and unsatisfied. If I recall the soup was about $15 for a standard sized bowl. Is this a good price? Probably for the ingredients in the soup I ordered today, but yet for $15 I feel I should leave stuffed and it is soup, remember BooYaBays was created because the fisherman wanted to eat all the cheap fish, and sell the good fish (read the wiki). Plus, I’m not a food critic or connoisseur, I just like to eat. I like to eat things that taste good, but I also don’t want to eat something that is not going to fill me up. I want something that tastes good, that I will keep eating just for the enjoyment of eating, all the while thinking to myself - man, this is great food for a great price – I can’t get enough of it.
I didn’t have that reaction at Magnolias, it was more like: yeah that’s pretty good, but damn that burger looks a lot better.
Magnolia’s was on my must-eat list for this trip to the low country. After reading through the cookbook Ron gave me and learning Chef Donald Barickman is a West Virginia native, I was excited to sample their fare.
I already knew what I was ordering: shellfish over grits. Quintessential low country food, the combination of shrimp and lobster sitting atop creamy grits, called to me like a siren song. It was available on both the lunch and dinner menus, so in an effort to be economical, we chose lunchtime for our visit.
Magnolia’s sits on East Bay Street in the historic section of Charleston. It’s great fun to walk those streets and admire the architecture of the commercial buildings and the stately homes. The interior of the restaurant is less pretentious than I thought it would be. It was comfortable but dressed up in white linens. Each window had a large magnolia branch in a glass vase. That was a great touch.
After ordering, we were served bread and butter to whet our appetites. Of course we all had some bread and then the funniest thing happened: My younger daughter, Hope, who was only eight years old, announced that she believed the butter had cream cheese in it. I poo-pood her, telling her that it was just butter with maybe some citrus added. But she insisted that the butter was unusually creamy. Insisted to the point that we made a wager. I lost a dollar on that one. I was so proud of her! Not only was she absolutely correct about the cream cheese, but she tasted the food with an inquisitive palate and cared about the food she was served. She is truly my Mini Me.
Why Ron ordered bouillabaisse in the heat of summer remains a mystery to this day. Even he can’t offer a reasonable explanation for that one. I knew he wouldn’t be satisfied with it when he ordered it and when I saw it placed before him, I was even more sure he’d leave hungry.
The kids really enjoyed their burgers and housemade potato chips. They ate a lot of burgers that week. At least they have moved past the “chicken nugget” phase of their childhoods.
At first glance, I thought the serving was small enough that I’d have no trouble finishing it. Not true- there was more in the bowl then met the eye. At first smell, I was in love. The creamy lobster sauce smelled divine and tasted rich. The grits were creamy but some of the texture remained for the perfect mouthfeel. A glass of sparkling wine was a refreshing contrast to the rich, warm dish. At $15, I felt the entree was a little pricey. I expected more of a wow-factor with the presentation, and the amount of seafood was small for the cost.
Service was polite and prompt. It kind of bugs me when you aren’t offered a refill of bread, especially if your entrée would be complimented by it. Say, for sopping up the wonderful lobster sauce?
I recommend Magnolia’s and would like to go back there myself in the future. FOUR FORKS.