I learned a couple of weeks ago that Magnolia’s Southern Cuisine, one of my favorite Cambridge restaurants, is closing on June 14. So I invited a bunch of friends for one last visit. It was a great mix of old friends and new, classmates and colleagues. I think business cards were exchanged, perhaps deals will be made. But let’s talk about the food consumed, I know that’s why you’re reading.
Magnolia’s has a regular menu and a seasonal and thematic festival menu. The last festival menu reads a bit like something Forrest Gump might have put together, but with both crabs and shrimp: Grilled Shrimp Skewered with Figs, Lump Crabmeat, Maryland Jonah Crab Claws, Blue Crab Fingers, Shrimp Remoulade, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, Blackened Rainbow Trout with Lump Crabmeat and Shrimp, Fried Soft Shell Crab, Maryland Crab Cakes and Crab Imperial. I’m not entirely sure what everybody at our table of 8 had, and it was a bit dark for photos, so here’s the rundown as best as I can recall. Perhaps other diners will comment on their meals.
My end of the table shared fried green tomatoes, hoppin’ shavonne, and a crispy fried avocado for starters. Fried green tomatoes, one of my favorite things at Magnolia’s, are almost like french toast made with firm, even crunchy, green tomatoes. They’re coated with breadcrumbs but not too thickly.
Hoppin’ Shavonne is a variant of Hoppin’ John (also available at Magnolia’s), a dish steeped Afro-Caribbean and Carolina culture. Where John is a rice and beans dish usually with some pork of sausage, Magnolia’s Shavonne substitutes Logan Turnpike Stone Ground Cheese Grits for the rice underlying the beans and tomatoes. I’m pretty sure there’s noplace else around here where you can get this.
I’d never had a fried avocado, but I’m already thinking about how I can get another one. The avocado arrives at the table whole, breaded and fried, looking not so different from a slightly lighter brown raw avocado. But when you cut into it, you find that the pit has been transformed as if by magic into a gooey puddle of cheddar cheese. Brilliant.
For mains, we had a crab combo plate, and from the regular menu, the “glorified BBQ chicken dinner,” a couple of chef’s choice vegetarian plates, fiery jambalaya, catfish and duck.
I was only able to glimpse the crab combo before it disappeared in a flurry of scooping, shell sucking, crunching, and mopping, so I’ll assume it was good.
I was torn between ordering the duck and the catfish, so when I heard a neighbor order the duck, I went for the catfish and traded tastes. The duck was slow-roasted and slathered with a super-sweet but not very spicy orange chipotle sauce. Maybe a bit too sweet, but the raisin pecan rice and collard greens were spot on and the duck itself was tender and delicious.
The catfish came crusted with pecans and flanked by cheese grits and collard greens. Crunchy and creamy, each in the right place and proportion, and the collard greens were simply done with salt and pepper and vinegar. Perfect with the half of last remaining cornbread muffin.
Desserts were tempting – key lime pie and pecan pie beckoned seductively, but the group decided that it was best to remember Magnolia’s for their entrees, and to walk down the block to Christina’s Ice Cream for dessert, which was very satisfying.
And so we bid farewell to Magnolia’s just how I like to remember it, loud and crowded with good times. You’ve got almost a week left, so head on over and have a Shandy Carib for me.