Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Off the Map: Gettin' Our South On, Ya'll

Pimento Cheese with Flatbread -- Magnolias, Charleston, SC

By this point in Vodka's trip to Charleston, she is sure that Ginger is going to be devastated for missing out.  Why?

She has stumbled into a place called "The Gin Joint."
Eat Your Heart Out, Ginger
In an effort to get appropriately liquored up for their foray into some "authentic" Southern dining, Vodka and Diet Coke wile away their time with some top-shelf gin, leaving just enough time to wander the nine seconds Google Maps says it will take us to walk across the street to Magnolias.

In actuality, the trip takes twelve seconds.  Get it together, Google.
With This Kind of Shoddy Information, Who Can We Trust Anymore?!
We are escorted to our table and approached instantly by our waiter, whose first order of business is to encourage us to choose our cocktails.
Waiter, I Think This Is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
"He's your kind of waiter," Diet Coke whispers, and we settle on a glass of red wine (Diet Coke) and some lavender gin drink that arrives looking entirely too much like a virgin cocktail (Vodka).

Um, Is This Gin or a Club Soda?
The first taste of it confirms our Shirley Temple fears, but Vodka, ever the martyr, plows through on consuming it anyway.
You're Welcome,America
In the meantime, we go about ordering our meal -- shellfish over grits for Vodka, buttermilk fried chicken for Diet Coke, and the housemade pimento cheese with Charleston flatbread as our appetizer.  Said cheese dish had been recommended by Tyler Florence on the REGIONAL FAVORITES episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, and we are optimistic about it primarily because it contains the word "cheese."
Bonus Points Would Have Been Given Had It Also Included the Words "Bread" and "Salt"
As we wait for our proliferation of food plates, Vodka asks our waiter where the bathroom is.  "It's really far," he answers, before walking her eight feet to the ladies room.  "Sarcasm does not go well with the South," Vodka mumbles upon returning to the table, but she is temporarily appeased when she sees the beloved bread basket has already appeared.
Saved By the Bread
Even if this waiter doesn't know good snarkiness, at least he understands the importance of a prompt carb delivery.
"Why Are There So Many Knives?" "Must Be Southern Thing." "They're Exactly the Same!"
The sourdough bread is warm out of the oven and comes with a homemade chive butter ("What kind of butter is that?  Not that I care...," Diet Coke, hater of condiments, asks).

Butter of the Gods
The bread is fairly stupendous -- crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and the butter is nothing less than ideal.  We are thus in the perfect mood to award Tyler Florence's cheese a solid 5 stars.

Until, that is, we actually take a bite.
Here's a Hint: Things Are About to Go Downhill
Now, perhaps the warmth of the bread has spoiled us into assuming that all of Magnolias dishes arrive hot out of the kitchen, but while spreading the pimento cheese spread onto the flatbread triangles, we make a cruel discovery:

The cheese is cold.
And Also Hidden Amongst a Thousand Triangles, But Mostly COLD
Being that we are not connoisseurs of pimento cheese, it is probably our fault for assuming the stuff would be warm, but still.  We are at once disappointed, and the first tastes of this appetizer does little to downplay this emotion.
PS This Presentation Is a Mess
It's not that the pimento cheese is bad -- it is just not very... cheesy.  It seems to be some kind of descendent of the olive tapanade, and it is jam-packed with bits of vegetables (particularly, it seems, red peppers, as that flavor is by far the most abundant).
Anyone Have Any Spare Velveeta?
In fact, this dish seems to be a misnomer all around, as the "cheese" tastes more like a "veggie spread," and the "flatbread" would more accurately be called "wontons."  We wish that the cheese flavor were stronger -- like a feta or a goat cheese -- and we prefer the spread on the delicious sourdough over these mediocre "flatbreads."
The Wontons Are Waving the White Flag of Surrender
All in all, this pimento cheese is not remotely offensive -- it is just so far from what we were expecting that we're having trouble recovering.
First the Gin and Now the Cheese? Come ON, Magnolias
Moving onto our entrees, Magnolias proves that their appetizer section is the weakest part of their menu (well -- that and the cocktails), as the shellfish (shrimp, scallops, and lobster) and grits is one of the best things we have tasted in Charleston thus far.
Creamy Sauce = Instant Improvement Over Everything
Bathing in a lobster butter sauce, the grits are thick and slightly lumpy (which Vodka finds the ideal texture), and the fish is all prepared to perfection.
Cream of Wheat, Southern-Style
This dish is the clear stand-out of Magnolias choices, as the buttermilk fried chicken, while certainly good, is of the standard, classic variety, and the potatoes, collard greens, and biscuit that accompany it are nothing out of this world
That's Some Impressively Sized Chicken You've Got There
Apparently, We Should Have Just Called This Trip the "Fried Chicken and Grits Tour"
If we have any complaints about our entrees, it is that they are so rich that we linger over them for well over a half hour, consuming them one bite at a time (in fairness, our long-suffering waiter makes no judgments about this practice).
Three Hours Later, We're Still Plowing Through
By the time we retreat out of Magnolias, we are satisfied that we have tasted some authentic, if upscale, Southern cuisine, and we are beginning to feel as though we have conquered Charleston.

If only they would learn to microwave their cheese.

Magnolias's Pimento Cheese with Flatbread: 3 stars

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