Café Magnolia is a gem when it comes to al fresco dining

  • By Phantom Diner

While reading a recent PennLive piece on local eateries known for, or newly adept at, al fresco dining, I was reminded of a gem of a place I hadn’t been in years, and was moved to end that absence.

So, off I went to Café Magnolia, a simple venue in a hundred-year-old former home in Lower Allen Township on Harrisburg’s West Shore.

Phantom Diner logoThe place has been around since 2003. It’s a BYOB serving creative American dishes, and is especially known for dinner salads, especially this time of year.

Speaking of which, it’s also got a refurbished deck with a dozen or so tables, with bright blue umbrellas and strung lighting, giving it the appearance from some angles of a seashore eatery.

Inside is less colorful, and a little worn. There are dark painted walls and carpeting. Tables chairs are simple but serviceable (there are linen napkins).

And the interior décor is somewhat visually saved by interesting wall art.

But one of the dining rooms has just five tables, with acoustics that allow any and all conversations to be shared. Best to request another room unless you find that cozy, enjoy eavesdropping or have a small group for private event.

Better, if possible, to dine outside.

And I’ll confess to a certain level of apprehension returning to restaurants where I’ve liked the cuisine but haven’t been in a long time. That’s mainly because many places, due to the pandemic, continue struggling with staffing levels, particularly in the kitchen.

This, sadly, can negatively affect product, presentation and service.

But at Café Magnolia, with a good crowd on a weeknight, service was excellent, the menu was inviting with lots of options, prices were reasonable and the food quality was better than my expectations.

My dining partner and I brought a crisp white wine which soon was resting in a nice ice bucket. We then started with a very tasty soup of the day (just $3), a creamy chicken noodle served with small oyster crackers; then we shared a generous serving of bruschetta with avocado, Kalamata olives, baby tomatoes, red onions, artichoke hearts and basil, $10 for a plate easily shared by two.

Other appetizer, from $9 to $12, included coconut shrimp with Thai chili sauce; veggie and goat cheese dip with warm house tortillas; caprese flatbread; and fried calamari.

Dinner salads are priced from $11 to $15, depending on add-ons such as shrimp, salmon, steak or chicken. They include an arugula Parmesan gluten-free salad; a fresh fruit and goat cheese salad; a Pittsburgh Salad with steak or chicken and topped with French fries and cheddar jack cheese; and a gluten-free Greek salad.

Then there is the house signature salad, “Jess’s Favorite Salad in the Whole World,” which is mixed greens, shredded coconut, toasted almonds, strawberries, with coconut-crusted chicken or shrimp and poppyseed dressing. Just sort of perfect for a warm summer evening.

There are burgers, sandwiches and wraps, all in the $10 to $12 range.

And options are nice. A pesto burger, a smokehouse burger or a traditional burger can be ordered featuring an eight-ounce “triple prime burger,” or chicken, or a Beyond (plant-based) Burger.

My dining partner went traditional with the prime meat, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo in a brioche bun with fries. It was large. And a hit.

Other sandwiches/wraps include sliced ribeye with chimichurri and arugula on toasted focaccia with Maui onion chips; a tuna melt, a club wrap, a Mediterranean salmon wrap, and a Magnolia Wrap, which is basically Jess’s favorite salad as a wrap, served with onion chips.

But Magnolia isn’t just about salads and wraps. During my visit there were a dozen entrees on the menu, most priced from $20 to $30, but “market” for crab cakes (these days, don’t even ask).

It was a good variety, including chicken piccata, sea scallops over spaghetti, grilled halibut, pesto pasta, salmon with quinoa, grilled pork chop with mango sauce and couscous.

I opted for a steak Florentine ($25), two shoulder tenders over fettuccine with garlic sauce, sautéed spinach and mozzarella. The meat was tender, the portion large and the combination of steak, spinach, cheese and pasta was just delicious. Though, for my tastes, a little more spinach wouldn’t have hurt.

Still, it’s easy to recommend this dish. And I took some of the meat home to have the next morning with eggs.

There is dessert. And if it includes, as it did during my stop, peanut butter pie from a local bakery, you won’t be sorry you tried it.

Same, by the way, is true of trying Café Magnolia.

 

CAFÉ MAGNOLIA

4700 Old Gettysburg Rd., Mechanicsburg

BYOB; on-site parking; takes cards; indoor/outdoor dining; reservations recommended

Open for lunch Mondays 11-3; open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 11-8

717-901-9700; cafe-magnolia.com.

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