Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nascent Local Tradition

Magnolia Pancake Haus
606 Embassy Oak
(behind the Embassy Theaters, just off West Avenue near Bitters Road)

Looking over the menu at Magnolia Pancake Haus reminded me of a place in New Orleans, the Ruby Slipper, where I had what I thought of at the time (and still do) as "the best breakfast ever." Mostly because both places are known in their respective locales as great breakfast spots. The Ruby Slipper, though, is a neighbourhood eatery deeply infused with a mix of Old N'awlinz Tradition and New Age Cutesiness; Magnolia is a straightforward restaurant that has no real neighbourhood around it, more an IHOP without the homogenization and mock sophistication. Its menu takes its cues from favourite dishes discovered in other places around the country: San Francisco, Chicago, and so on. (And on that score, by the way, the manager would do well to visit the Ruby Slipper.) 

Magnolia, which has relocated from its old digs across the parking lot, loses nothing from the move. The old location was clean and new and sparkly; the new location is that as well, and probably larger. Last time I visited, after the move, I was disappointed because (a) the tables were so close together I felt myself almost a part of the conversation at three adjacent tables; and (b) there seemed to have been some decline in the product coming from the new kitchen. It just didn't taste as good as it always has before.

Whatever the problem in the kitchen, if there was one, it's been resolved. As for the table-placement, this morning I was in the front dining area, which has two rows of booths with tables placed in between, and everything has enough separation to make me feel comfortable. I didn't see the layout of the back dining room, where I'd eaten before, to see if they've maybe lowered the density of seating there. If they haven't, I won't want to be in there. But that's just me; some people like community seating.

The food: Yes, it was very good. I went for the Jambalaya omelet, in vague homage, perhaps, to that Ruby Slipper breakfast. The eggs were fluffy to the point of being almost too thick, folded around the filling of seasoned rice, chicken and sausage in a suspiciously precise manner. (I say "suspiciously precise" because the eggs had not cooked into the filling in the least, which makes me suspect that Magnolia has some kind of device in its kitchen that allows its cooks to actually prepare omelets in the shape of a taco, then put the filling in afterwards. How else to explain the machine-like neatness of the folded eggs?) Over the top was a reddish-brown sauce with cheese in it that, yes, did seem redolent of jambalaya seasonings, but looked more like enchilada sauce. Despite appearances, it was quite tasty in a way appropriate to the dish. 

The two pancakes that accompanied the omelet, though, were the high point of my morning. (Usually, that's damning with faint praise, but this was a particularly good morning all around. Surely not because I took my wife to the airport this morning; more in spite of that.) The pancakes were light, fluffy, and slightly sweet. They were so light, in fact, that I could have poured an entire pitcher of syrup on them without overflowing the too-small plate they were laid on. But that much syrup would still have been a travesty, an indignity to which such wonderful creations as these pancakes should not be subjected. The pancakes, actually, were better in some ways than what I had at the Ruby Slipper, a comparison that means nothing to you, perhaps, but speaks volumes to me. 

I've already mentioned how clean the place is, partly because it's very new. There is a sort of suburban sterility to the atmosphere of the place, as though it has consciously tried to capture the ambience of a Sheraton Hotel lobby; though the idea that anyone would go for that on purpose is not to be believed. So let's just say that it's suburban-modern, kind of like the "hominess" you get in a contractor's model in a new subdivision. Nice enough, but definitely nothing special. Not the least bit lived-in.

Last city inspection:  August 2009
29 demerits; that's a lot.
The service is pretty good. I probably marked it up higher than it should have been because I sat there for a while wondering when the waiter was going to bring more coffee, then felt like an idiot when I realized he had left one of those insulated coffee pots on the table. In a normal mood, I'd mark down for that: to me, it means that the management is determined to get by with fewer staff than a decent restaurant should have; kind of like, you know, IHOP. Name one really good restaurant that uses those things.  Go ahead, name one. You can't, can you?

The prices are, I would say, at least twenty percent higher than they ought to be. Breakfast for two people, with coffee, tax and tip, was $25. I didn't notice the price of coffee, but I'll bet that's a big part of the excess; though I also thought the price of my omelet was higher than it should have been. It was good, but it wasn't that good.

Magnolia Pancake Haus on Urbanspoon


  1. I think that's exactly right: the food is good, but you pay too much for it. It's not a lot of dollars, unless there are a lot of people in your party, but it adds up. And there are too many good restaurant values around to make this plce worth going back to.

  2. I saw on urbanspoon that you didn't like this place and thought finally, somebody else who doesn't besides me. But it sounds like you liked it a lot, except for the prices. I guess I'm still the only one who thinks its not anything special.

  3. as the previous commentator said, there food at Magnolia is pretty good. I just don't like paying premium prices for ordinary, albeit well-done, food.

  4. I second everything Anonymous said. I've only eaten there once and won't again. I feel like it's one of those places that exist on reputation alone, not on the quality or taste of it's food...now why is that?


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