Here's a shout out to Erik Weigand and his coworkers on the 5th floor. Thanks for reading the blog, guys!)
The globalization of dining culture, through the proliferation of fast food franchises, chain restaurants, and grocery mega marts, has helped spread American culture throughout the world. There are Costcos and Tony Romas in Taiwan, Pizza Huts in Japan, Kentucky Fried Chickens in China, Applebees in Qatar, Burger Kings in Australia, and Starbucks practically everywhere a structure can be erected. McDonalds has replaced the British Empire. The sun never sets on the Golden Arches.
Here at home, you can drive across the 48 contiguous states and have the exact same meal every night. There's a great deal of comfort in this less than epicurean uniformity, but at such a high cost. Throughout our great nation, regional cuisines and local specialties are slowly being lost. Small mom & pop eateries, the backbone of our country's gastronomic heritage, are losing ground as fast food and chain restaurants continue to multiply relentlessly, bringing with them a culture of mediocre conformity that is replacing our traditional flavors. Orange County's reputation of as a breeding ground for corporate restaurants, although unjustly exaggerated, is well deserved. However, we're hardly alone.
Luckily, there are still discerning consumers who have continued to support unique mom & pop establishments by voting with their dollars. They've preserved our dwindling bastions of culinary heritage. They've kept delightfully nostalgic restaurants, such as the Magnolia Cafe, alive and well.
Located in an unprepossessing little strip mall near the border of Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach, the Magnolia Cafe evokes images of greasy spoons during the Leave It to Beaver era. It's a classic diner, hearkening back to a time before fast food franchises and chains superseded the neighborhood family restaurant. At the Magnolia Cafe, the coffee is still bottomless, everyone's local, and the waitresses still call you "hon". You can even buy candy from a display case under the counter. As Cat puts it, "It's what Denny's wants to be and never will." The Carrows down the street is only a pale, soulless reflection.
The food at the Magnolia Cafe is wholesome, authentic, and unabashedly simple. They serve clean, classic American flavors untainted by trend or change. You'll find no Atkins or South Beach approved fare, no faddish dishes like Southwestern Eggrolls or Jalapeno Burgers. Their most exotic dishes are their Teriyaki Steak, Breast of Chicken Teriyaki, and Spaghetti and Meatballs, all tastes which American GIs acquired abroad during World War II and made popular after they returned home.
Cat, who's an old fashioned American girl at heart, loves the Magnolia Cafe. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you'll find us there at least once a month. The Belgian Waffle, which has received her hard-to-earn seal of approval, is her favorite breakfast order. It's surprisingly hard to find a good waffle in Orange County. Believe me, we've looked. Airy and crisp, the Magnolia Cafe's is the best we've eaten so far.
I, being a manly panda, enjoy breaking my fast with heartier fare. Their Pork Chops & Eggs really hits the spot, with two hefty chops nicely caramelized. I like my eggs over easy, so that the runny yolks coat the meat like a rich sauce. This plate usually comes with hash browns or fries, but I get steamed veggies since there's only so much my arteries can take. Ah, to be 18 again.
I still get my carbs, though. All of the breakfast plates come with tasty buttered toast. A thick smear of marmalade and I'm on my way to bready nirvana.
Come lunch time, you'll often see me hunkered down over one of the Magnolia Cafe's daily lunch specials, such as this Chicken & Dumplings. Pillowy mounds of puffy dough top a generous portion of fried chicken breast, celery, peas, carrots, and onions, all of which are covered in a creamy gravy. They even give you some banana slices for dessert.
Cat's usual lunch order is the Spaghetti & Meatballs. If you're an Italian food purist, steer clear of this dish. It's American down to the core, with slightly overcooked pasta, a sauce that's practically a tomato puree, and freeze-dried Parmesan cheese crumbs everywhere. For someone like Cat, who grew up eating very similar spaghetti made by her mother, it tastes like home. I'm quite fond of it as well. The ladies in our neighborhood taught my mom to make spaghetti and other American dishes when I was a toddler. It was just like this.
The sandwiches are excellent. I highly recommend their Monte Cristo, the result of a sexy encounter between French toast and a turkey melt. A ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese sandwich is dipped in egg batter, then deep fried. The resulting foodgasm on a plate is served with berry preserves and pickles.
All of the sandwiches come with a choice of fruit, French fries, cole slaw, onion rings, salad, or soup. Since the Monte Cristo is deep fried, I usually pick the cole slaw, which provides a refreshing counterbalance.
Sometimes, I'm not so good. Ahhh... "French fries crisp on the outside and mealy inside," as Ramona Quimby would rave.
I also recommend the Reuben, which is a grilled sandwich chock full of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. Gotta love that sauerkraut. I'm a sucker for any form of fermented cabbage. The onion rings are only ok. I'm not a big fan of bread crumb breading on onion rings, but if that's your cup of tea, the ones at the Magnolia Cafe are just fine.
When she's in a sandwich mood, Cat gets the Patty Melt, which is an oozy, artery clogging treat with hamburger and American cheese on grilled rye.
Where the Magnolia Cafe really shines is with its daily dinner specials. Each one features hearty, classic American fare and comes with a choice of soup or salad, as well as a scoop of ice cream for dessert. While the soups are all good, my favorite is the Clam Chowder. Cat likes the Gumbo.
As for my dinner recommendations... Hold onto your forks. I really went to bat for you guys. How about some English Style Fish & Chips? It's really more of a Fish & Mash, since I asked for mashed potatoes instead. I can't take too much fried food. The thick strips of cod were crunchy on the outside and moist and flakey on the inside. The only thing I missed was some malt vinegar.
Oh fine. Classic Fish & Chips. Happy now?
Let's see. I also like the Meatloaf, with its clear beef broth gravy. You have to put ketchup on both the meatloaf and fries, of course. That's how I was taught to eat it and that's how I'll teach my kids.
There's the Old Fashioned Pot Roast, which boasts tender chunks of beef, potato, and carrot swimming in the same beef gravy served with the Meatloaf. The Pot Roast is quite juicy, with very little gristle or fat. Anyone looking for a beefy fix should order this dish.
When Cat and I were both working at the same company, the Magnolia Cafe was our default stop on the way home when we were too tired to cook dinner. I ordered the New York Steak a lot. It's not the best cut of meat in town, but it's really good for the price. I like mine nice and pink.
I'm also quite fond of the Sirloin Steak & Fried Shrimp combo. The sirloin is a slightly tougher cut than the New York, but it's still quite tasty. I'm really fond of the ordering their rice for my side. The kernels are al dente and really well flavored.
The fried shrimp are really really good. The shrimp are nice and plump, with thick breading and crispy tails. There's even a Golden Fried Shrimp dinner that comes with even more shrimp for those crustacean lovers out there.
Now if sea critter be what ye crave, then Filet of Sole, coated with flour and almonds, then pan fried, is a good choice, tasty and true.
I'm also a big fan of the Trout, butterflied, pan fried, with a heaping cup of tartar sauce and a squirt of lemon.
Magnolia Cafe - As American as their Apple Pie. There's something for everyone every day of the week. I hope you've been inspired to try their classic American fare, and to search for local mom & pops in your neighborhood.
Bill (Items pictured)
Lunch Specials - 5.99
Dinner Specials - 6.99-9.99
Belgian Waffle - 5.25
Pork Chops & Eggs - 8.45
Chicken & Dumplings - 9.45
Spaghetti & Meatballs - 7.95
Monte Cristo - 7.75
Reuben - 7.75
Patty Melt - 7.95
Fish & Chips - 9.45
Meatloaf - 8.95
Pot Roast - 9.45
New York Steak - 10.75
Sirloin Steak & Fried Shrimp - 11.25
Filet of Sole - 8.95
Trout - 8.95
Apple Pie - 3.95
8988 Warner Ave
Fountain Valley, CA 92708