A birthday at Magnolia

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Last night, as a belated birthday present, Charlotte took me for dinner at Magnolia Grill. This critically acclaimed spot in Durham has won a laundry list of accolades: the 11th best restaurant in America (Gourmet), best chef in the Southeast (the James Beard Foundation) and best pastry chef (Bon Appétit).

Our reservation was for 9:15 p.m., but when we arrived about a half hour early, the hostess promptly seated us. The interior has a nice Southern bistro feel to it — the peach walls are offset by dark wood floors and a comfy red banquette. A pig sculpture sits in a window.

While looking over the menu, we had a strong whiskey apertif and some warm, freshly baked bread. What makes Magnolia so delicious is the seasonality of its dishes — this is not a menu that changes weekly or monthly. In fact, chefs Ben and Karen Baker change it daily.

First up were our appetizers. Mine was a trout salad with roasted macadamia nuts, slivers of Granny Smith apple, chopped parsley and dried currants. It was topped with a light horseradish cream sauce that contrasted with the smokiness of the fish and sweetness of the fruits. Charlotte opted for the sweet potato bisque with Carolina shrimp and a ginger-Meyer Rum Chantilly. “Creamy, sweet with a hint of spice,” she said. “Amazing.”



Next were our entrees. My grilled Berkshire pork rib chop was cooked perfectly. It sat on a bed of southern greens (with hunks of ham) in a creole mustard jus. Charlotte’s cornmeal-crusted Snead’s flounder in Meyer lemon-olive oil sauce with toasted pistachios, fingerling potatoes with escarole & pickled sultanas was “delicious.”



For dessert, we split a piece of chocolate angel food cake with a chocolate ganache, freshly whipped cream and a crystallized citrus glaze.


We’ve had dinner at some of the most highly reviewed restaurants in this area — including Elaine’s, Crook’s Corner and Lantern. Magnolia Grill, however, really takes it to the next level. The food was delicious yet unlike at some other spots, didn’t make us feel like we needed to be rolled out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow.

The service was prompt and professional. Our waitress “saved” Charlotte the last piece of flounder and even helped us figure out where in D.C. we could score a bottle of her favorite wine.

Needless to say, we’ll be back.


  1. Wow..you guys certainly know how to choose great spots for eating…Luckily mom and I had a great dinner otherwise we would have been mucho jealous…


  1. […] Post dogs, we made our way back to Chapel Hill and rested up for Marc’s birthday dinner at Magnolia in Durham (making our triangle day complete). Magnolia has won a bundle of awards, and is known around the triangle as one of the best. Needless to say the meal lived up to their reputation. I would write a full review, but Marc’s blog takes it to the next level and I don’t even want to compete. Read all about it at MarcZawel.com. […]

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