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New England Regional | The Tastes of Cambridge

Grits and Beyond

Give yourself to Magnolia's

January-February 2002

If you want a precious morsel of "lacquered" foie gras with bee pollen, go to Clio in Boston. If you want to be fed voluptuous Southern cooking and plenty of it, to be served with cheerfulness, to be surrounded by happy-looking fellow diners of varied stripes and ages without a necktie among them, and to sit at a copper-clad table in a lively but not-too-noisy

MAGNOLIA'S SOUTHERN CUISINE

1193 Cambridge Street.
617-576-1971
Tuesday through Saturday, 6 P.M. to 10 P.M. Reservations for four or more.
Ask about parking.
room with a tile floor, a tin ceiling, and a rich assortment of visual stimuli on the royal-blue and yellow walls--decorative dinner plates, mirrors, paintings, Mardi Gras beads, a large half-moon, a jester atop a clock, a sculpted band of bears with an alligator playing the tuba and a frog on banjo, and a mural depicting a French Quarter street scene behind the bar--go to Magnolia's Southern Cuisine near Inman Square. It will delight you.

On the table will be two kinds of hot sauce and a tuberose. To the table will come warm corn bread and pecan muffins, with no little saucer of virgin olive oil, but quantities of butter. One could make a meal of the appetizers. "Cajun popcorn": light, fried, baby shrimp with a sherry-scallion dipping sauce ($6.95). Fried green tomatoes, with tomatillo salsa ($4.95). Maryland crab cakes, with a chipotle tartar sauce ($7.95). Fried oysters over seared, gingered spinach with a lemon-pepper dressing ($7.95). All lip-smacking good.

You might try to work into your evening a side order of crisp-fried sweet-potato strings with crumbled blue cheese ($3.95). Or the black-eyed peas and cheese grits, surmounted by garlicky tomatoes, proof of the fundamental goodness of grits, in case you, like my cousin Vinnie, have yet to discover it ($3.95). Chef John Silberman has his grits ground to order at a mill in northern Georgia. He is fussy about all his ingredients and has his crawfish and softshell crab and coffee (with chicory) jetted in from Dixie.

Silberman grew up in Scarsdale, New York, would you believe it, but he went to Tulane to study history. While in New Orleans, he persuaded the masterful Paul Prudhomme to teach him to cook. After various apprenticeships--on one of which he met a waitress named Amelia Broome, his future wife, who now manages the dining room--in 1984 he opened the popular Cajun Yankee. In 1993 he broadened his focus and changed the restaurant's décor and name. Thus, Magnolia's.

All right, down to business. Try the jambalaya: rice consorting with spicy andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, oysters, and crawfish ($14.95). Or the buttery catfish, served with mashed sweet and new potatoes (skins on) and appealing mixed vegetables, including the seldom-seen lima bean ($15.95). Or the formidable sautéed veal, topped with artichokes, mushrooms, crab, and hollandaise ($18.95.) Finally: pecan pie, flanked by homemade vanilla ice cream and a great dollop of whipped cream laced with bourbon. Get off your diet and go.