Before we begin, let’s take a quick moment of silence for that small morsel of beer cheese that accidentally dripped onto the floor.
It’s such a pleasure to share with readers when a new Wilmington eatery is doing practically everything right. With so many café-style restaurants claiming to make locally-inspired, homemade cuisine, it’s easy for the food to end up being a miss. Magnolia Social Café, however, is a hit—from the first bite to the last.
Although Magnolia’s Pier Master Pointe address might not sound familiar, just steer toward BBQ haven Smoke on the Water in the up-and-coming Riverlights neighborhood off River Road to find the way. In addition to a peaceful water view, the small community and shopping center (still taking shape) is already bursting with charm. Magnolia sits smack dab in the middle of the pleasant lineup of shops. The café has a clean, spacious interior—but on a gorgeous fall-ish Wilmington day, take those homemade tots al fresco. Did I just casually reference homemade tater tots? Yes, I did. Let’s get into the good stuff.
In my typical sneaky fashion (specifically when reporting on a restaurant who serves breakfast and lunch), I opted for one meal there and the remainder of the food to-go. The fresh baked pastries—um, yes, please, cappuccino muffin—were calling my name but I only had so much stomach to fill, so I went straight for the protein. I appreciated the versatility of the morning menu (a silver dollar pancakes special, a chicken and waffle sandwich, an egg and cheese combo, etc.).
Magnolia’s “Port City” had me at “balsamic onion jam,” but brioche seemed like a bit too much bread for the feast I was about to endure. I’ve had far too many disappointing wraps due to the following reasons: too much tortilla, toppings that leave the tortilla soggy, no additional attention paid to the tortilla other than wrapping it around its fixin’s. The list goes on, but how the tortilla itself is executed is my obvious peeve. Magnolia nailed it on so many levels; with this being my first dish, the bar was set high. The tortilla (well played on having wheat) perfectly enclosed the juicy baby bellas, generous shards of nutty Parmesan, fluffy scrambled egg, spinach, and super savory balsamic onion jam, which made the meal. Most importantly, the entire wrap was expertly griddled on all sides, cut on a diagonal, and thoughtfully stacked in its cute newspaper-lined tray. Along with a few assists from my bro Texas Pete and a delightfully strong iced vanilla coffee (a recommendation from the cashier), I couldn’t have been more satisfied.
I was really looking forward to their “Promenade Parfait”: a layered medley of Greek yogurt, housemade granola and honey-berry compote. Although the item landed on my receipt, it never made it to my order. Boo. Despite the mishap, I’ve gotta be straight with readers: The rest of my Magnolia experience was so superior, I didn’t realize the parfait was missing until about three minutes ago while writing this review. So I can’t speak from personal experience, but judging by the rest of my culinary journey, it’s likely the fruit and yogurt creation is a slam dunk.
So what did we all learn here? Always, always double check the to-go bag, and perhaps do so in the restaurant because once in the car, you’ll find yourself fist-deep in Magnolia’s homemade tater tots and, well, what parfait? Priorities.
Magnolia offers three different varieties of deep-fried potato balls and, while I only sampled one, it’s all about that base. The tots aren’t the traditional short, stubby cylinders that come out of a freezer bag. Each crispy bite of a circular potato bomb reveals shredded, fluffy, salty starch. There is absolutely no reason the humble café needs to be making tots from scratch, but they are, and that’s one more thing that elevates them above the rest. The added effort makes them an ideal fit for a trendy new area that’s getting some buzz. I went for the “Boat House Tots” because saying no to beer cheese is just something I don’t believe in. Word to the palate sensitive: While there is a clear warning the taters come with hops and barley seasoning and beer cheese, be aware they are erupting with a not-so-subtle hop flavor. Even for an IPA enthusiast, the earthy, piney aroma and initial touch to the tongue were a surprise—but the finish wasn’t overly bitter. For a café, not a brewhouse, to be putting out such a hop-centric dish this balanced … well, color me impressed.
Onto the sandwiches (and flawlessly crisp homemade chips): Don’t breeze by the weekly rotating specials board when walking up to the counter to place an order. I almost did and would have missed out on something called a “Pickle Chicken Salad Wrap,” which, by the way, are four of my favorite things. The lunch specialty—griddled on the outside and stuffed with creamy, tangy chicken salad—was refreshing, but it’s the “Carolina Cheese Steak” I can’t stop drooling over. The hearty sub, a comforting hug and smack to the face all at once, was wildly memorable. Cradled inside of a pillowy, toasted hoagie roll: juicy, shaved Angus beef, caramelized onions, red-eye gravy, meaty cremini mushrooms, red eye gravy, and more of that oozy beer cheese. The only thing wrong with the situation was I already was too full to have more than a few bites. See you at dinner tonight, cheesesteak.