Saturday, November 25, 2006

Café Magnolia, Old Gettysburg Road, Mechanicsburg

4700 Old Gettysburg Road
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055

My trip to Café Magnolia was different from the other reviews. This time I went with a larger group of friends, most of whom are not regular wine drinkers – a fun and different way to experience a BYOB restaurant.

I am a firm believer that wine should be enjoyable to YOU. There are wines for people who are not regular wine drinkers that are not so bold or dry but are still enjoyable for everyone. For this group, we shared a bottle of Bridgeview Blue Moon Oregon Riesling 2005 – a slightly dry, very simple but “bright” tasting wine. This delightful, inexpensive wine is one of the best for a “mixed” group of wine and non-wine drinkers. Everybody seemed to like it. One of my non-wine drinking friends said, “I would buy that. It goes with everything from the garlic bread to dessert.” The consensus was this wine is a hit.

The other wine we shared was a Mazza Lake Erie Vidal Blanc 2004 from Erie, Pennsylvania. I love many Pennsylvania wines. Everyone agreed this was a good one, although it was less versatile with the food. It was sweeter and more syrupy than the Riesling. It would go better on its own with just some cheese or fruit. One of the most fun aspects of wine is the “live and learn” opportunity it presents. The only way to really understand which wine you like with different food is to try many combinations.

So, what about the food at Café Magnolia? Very simply, the food is nice. Each of us wanted to try a little bit of everything so we decided to get the appetizer sampler and an order of the spanikopita so everyone could taste everything. The server told us the owners are Greek, therefore we knew we had to try at least a few of the more traditional Greek dishes on the menu. It was a good strategy. The appetizers were great. Unique and different flavors were a part of each component. A great way to start the meal.

Several of us also had the butternut squash soup that was warm, not cold – much to the delight of several who ordered it. They agreed that they wouldn’t use the term “soup” to describe the dish in the traditional sense. It was savory but with a sweet “kick” – very flavorful way to celebrate the harvest season.

Ordering the main entrées was really fun with this diverse group. With so many unusual choices, we really had fun deciding. One of my friends liked so many things that she finally based her decision on which side dishes came with the main dish. She picked what she felt was the most interesting combination. And there were many interesting combinations!

Our dinners included the Lemon Shrimp with Lemon Risotto, the Tuna with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Marsala, Veal Marsala and a “gigantic” Greek Salad. Everything was presented beautifully and tasted great. We especially got a kick out of the “little Dairy Queen swirl” presentation of the mashed potatoes. This thick and dense side dish is a real treat. The wasabi blend was perfect and matched the tuna well. The risotto was cheesy and very satisfying. Those who ordered the Marsala sauce really loved it with the mushrooms. And the friend who ordered the Greek salad – herself a salad expert – said it was the best Greek salad she ever had. She liked that it had mixed greens instead of just Romaine lettuce and the char grilled chicken was still warm on top of her salad. And a really nice detail was already pitted Kalamata olives.

The service was a little bit slow, but the atmosphere in this converted house was enjoyable. Everyone loved the taste combinations of their meals and agreed that overall Café Magnolia is “fabulous.” The restaurant offers an interesting option for sharing a meal. For $4 extra you can share your dinner with your date. Both diners get a salad. The portions are very generous. This would be a great way to really enjoy this place without overindulging. Maybe I would have room for dessert next time!

One non-food related note worth mentioning is the restrooms. A mom must have designed this place. There are two restrooms: one for women; the other is unisex. In the women’s room there was a changing table with everything a busy mom might need, even a selection of sizes of diapers, just in case she forgot. Nice touch.

Everyone agree they would come to Café Magnolia again.