Entering Magnolia House in Pasadena, it's like you've entered some secret back alley.
Not to worry - no one is going to steal your wallet. Down this alley and around the corner is a glorious bar and intimate restaurant that serves up fabulous cocktails and amazing food. And I'm not even exaggerating -- the entry is kind of an alley.... Built over 100 years ago, Magnolia has been a family home, a post-Prohibition liquor store and a myriad of modern businesses. They have preserved that house-feeling so incredibly well (I mean, case and point - you can see the actual house in this photo) and the result is pretty unique.
But enough about the setting. Can we talk about the experience? The food? The drinks?
At first, I was concerned as a possibly misguided hostess thought it was okay to seat me and my guest in a corner completely out of view of the rest of the restaurant, behind a loud party of about 10 people. But the manager wasn't having it (frankly, I wasn't either) and had her move us almost immediately to a proper spot, dead center of all the action. He and our fantastic server wasted no time making recommendations so I started off with the "Everyday Sunshine" - a cocktail that contained everything I love in life: vodka, pineapple, raspberry, lime.... It was sweet and delicious. I'm a pretty girly drinker and I know a lot of y'all are too. Don't even try to be all tough with that bourbon I can smell from nine feet away.
Some of you have probably realized by now that I almost always bring a guest with me on these restaurant visits. It's not because I hate dining alone -- on the contrary, I rather enjoy it. It's really because as a single person, it's hard to sample enough of the menu to make a fair evaluation... Also so I don't send myself into fatal obesity stuffing my face with great food at a place like Magnolia House.
We began with something simple and small - NUTS. I'm not joking. (Although I am giggling like a teenager every time I type NUTS.) And not just any nuts. The black truffle infused sea salt pistachios come out in a little bucket and this is where having my friend was handy. Because were she not present, I may have opened my mouth and just poured that bucket out. Pistachios are my favorite nut, guys, but these were unreal.
Of course, I could not pass up trying the Brussels sprouts, too. They are made with pistachio pesto, bacon, and pecornio cheese with a flash fried poached egg on top. Also unreal. I dreamed about these sprouts for many nights after. My sexy man dreams were getting jealous.
We weren't done with shared plates yet because then I simply had to try the king crab mac & cheese. It was among some of the best mac & cheese I've ever tasted. It didn't even need the crab, but I certainly enjoyed that, too!
Oh but wait -- then it was time for a second cocktail and I was feeling a little more brave so at the manager's urging I tried the "Phantom Engineer" which is mezcal, rye, grapefruit, lime and aperitif wine (it's basically vermouth, I believe). He was right to urge. I liked it better than my earlier beverage.
I was already nearing full but the team insisted their burger was to die for, and I do love a good burger. So it arrived and we split it in half. THE CHEESE won me over before I even put it in my mouth. They make their own American cheese! How nuts is that?! And it also has bourbon onions and thick-cut smoked bacon. It is definitely an amazing burger. Maybe even my top five. I'll have to have it again and will let you know...
In the end, it came down to dessert or polishing off the pistachios I hadn't consumed yet so for the good of this review, I had the bread pudding. It was wonderful. But then I had nut-regret. They were so stinking good and how could I just let half a bucket of nuts go to waste like that?!
Answer: I couldn't. I begged for a plastic baggy. They obliged.
- Official website
- Their socials - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Parking - street parking? When we went, there wasn't a valet but we found a lot behind the building that seemed like it was safe.
- Pro tip - It's a fairly small restaurant and they do not take reservations. Plan accordingly.
Added bonus? They bring the check out in a "little black book." We enjoyed flipping through it and reading previous customer contributions. Naturally, we left our own. Luckily my friend has a sense of humor.
Thank you to Magnolia House for hosting our meal and to Lawrence Moore & Associates for helping me out with some photos -- some of mine did fare well in the dimly lit room.