Chow down with John Batchelor: Magnolia Blue’s food gets high marks
Food: 4/5 stars
Southern-influenced, abundant in flavor.
Ambience: 2/5 stars
Service: 2/5 stars
Well-versed, even regarding wines. Not as impressed with management.
Value: 4.5/5 stars
Mid-range, pricewise, upper echelon for enjoyment of food.
Overall: 3/5 stars
Rating range: Not Recommended, one (satisfactory), two (good), three (very good), four (excellent) or five (truly exceptional) stars.
Magnolia Blue is the latest installment in the Paul Riggan High Point culinary empire, which also includes Blue Water Grille, Lulu and Blu, Blue Bourbon Jack’s, and Blue Rock Pizza, as well as a catering arm. This new property occupies the former News and Record building on North Main Street. A rooftop bar and private dining room look out from the top of the building. Primary seating is located on street level, through the entryway on Main, from a large parking area around back. The look is gray-sleek-industrial, cacophonous in the downstairs bar, slightly less so in the dining room, but still loud. By the time this review appears, a rooftop patio, serving bar food as well as drinks, will have opened.
Riggan has turned over the keys to this kitchen to Eric Brownlee. Chef Brownlee’s culinary history includes the Daniel Island Country Club, followed by a stint as executive chef at the String & Splinter in High Point. He left the String to take over the kitchen at Lulu and Blu.
The restaurant’s subtext is “Savory Southern Fare,” an apt description, with influences of Louisiana especially evident, along with what could emerge from North Carolina kitchens if the cook were really skilled and imaginative.
Zydeco Salad is hearty, a function of grilled Andouille sausage, joined in the assembly by chilled fingerling potatoes, roasted Roma tomatoes, and grilled asparagus, topped with a fried egg, all dressed in red wine and whole grain mustard vinaigrette.
Grit Tots are fried crisp, bursting with quality grits and cheddar cheese flavor from the soft interior, accented with spicy-sweet pepper jelly. Fried Green Tomatoes are appropriately tart, crunchy from a panko crust, flavored with remoulade sauce. Fried Crawfish Tails benefit from similar treatment. All are winners.
The Crab Cake contends for best in Triad. A thick, round ball is loaded with lump and jumbo lump crab meat, held together by incantation, lightly flavored with mustard, and accented with Creole remoulade sauce.
Mahi Tacos bear ample quantity of blackened Mahi, cooked fairly firm (that’s a compliment in this case), which holds together well as you bite your way through condiments of pineapple (a naturally sweet foil for the blackening spices), avocado, and host arugula.
Chicken and Dumplings combine pulled chicken, mostly white meat, tender and flavorful, with Andouille sausage and gnocchi dumplings (made from potato flour), plus chunks of butternut squash. Parmesan cream sauce is blended into the flavor profile.
The named ingredients in Bayou Shrimp and Crab Pasta are fresh and tender, joined in the bowl by corn, sliced portabella mushrooms, Tasso ham, and pasta shells. It’s a complex rendering that provides one taste adventure after another.
Shrimp and Grits exude pleasant smoky flavor from pieces of Andouille sausage, plus mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions, and shredded cheddar cheese, presented in Geechie Boy grits- especially flavorful in their own right.
Salmon tastes rather mild, stacked alongside grits blended with jalapeño peppers and goat cheese, flanked by braised greens. A bourbon barbecue jus hosts the presentation. Mahi Mahi is moist and tender, decorated with a few crawfish tails. This is placed over a fried grits cake that incorporates Tasso ham bits and green chili, ladled with lemon-infused cream sauce.
Pork Chop is at least an inch thick, redolent of quality pork flavor, enhanced with crawfish tails and Bordelaise sauce. This is another contender for best in class. The menu promises potato and green bean hash, but none appeared on my plate.
Pot Roast uses a large short rib, braised; lean but tender (the kitchen did a great job of trimming away the fat). The rich red wine and rosemary demi-glace also hosts fingerling potatoes, carrots, shallots, and green beans. I would be hard-pressed to identify a more solid depth of flavor anywhere else.
Several burgers and po’ boy sandwiches join the more upscale offerings. In Black and Blue, the hamburger patty is dusted with blackening spices then sprinkled with Cambozola cheese (a variety of blue cheese), crisp bacon, and sautéed mushrooms. Leanin’ Southern decorates the meat with pimento cheese, and crisp Vidalia onions intensified with bourbon barbecue sauce.
My High Point cadre of restaurant spies never ignores desserts. Thus, we passed around Peach Cobbler, baked in a ramekin and topped with vanilla bean ice cream, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie- peanut butter mousse in an Oreo cookie crust. I would repeat them and any others on the list. The champ, however, is the Salted Caramel Crunch Cookie, perhaps misnamed. It is baked in a single-portion size cast iron skillet, served hot, with vanilla ice cream.
Servers are well-versed and able to provide insights regarding food as well as descriptions of by the glass wine offerings. Many selections are likely to be unfamiliar, but samples are provided on request. We liked all we tried, and the prices are reasonable. I have one serious criticism. The website cites Charleston, New Orleans and Baltimore as Southern cities. I used to work out of an office in Baltimore, and that is not a Southern city! One other issue, of a more substantive nature, I placed five calls over two days, asking to speak to the manager or the chef or the owner. None were available to come to the phone, and after five days, no one has responded to my requests to call back. This raises questions in my mind with regard to how a customer with a complaint is likely to be treated. Management could take lessons in customer relations from their front line staff.
John Batchelor has been writing about eating and drinking since 1981. Over a thousand of his articles have been published. He is also author of two travel/cookbooks: Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants and Recipes from the North Carolina Coast, and Chefs of the Mountains: Restaurants and Recipes from Western North Carolina. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or see his blog.
1807 N. Main St., High Point
Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday Brunch, 5-9 p.m. Sunday Dinner
Sandwiches and Burgers: $11.95-$14.95
Most recent visit: May 25