Magnolia’s at the Mill Delivers on Atmosphere, Food and Service
By Pam and Tim Lettie
Trending culinary menu options and historic atmosphere don’t often go together. Yet few of our country or Valley restaurants can rival the combination at Magnolia’s at the Mill in Purcellville.
The exterior is reminiscent of the building’s roots as an old mill. A sunroom and patio off to the side increase the seating capacity. Our favorite rooms are the large and irregular historic interior rooms showcasing 12- to 16-inch roughhewn wood columns and beams. Frank Lloyd Wright shaped the expectations of guests to the homes he designed with low-ceilinged entryways. A tight entryway foyer contracts your expectations. Then, entering the dining area, you are lifted with broad expansive access to light and natural materials.
Walking into the main dining area, you feel the entire footprint of the old mill. The heavy wood and the roof vaulting up three stories give a sense of the spacious seating beyond. Looking up, you can see details of the old mill, often subtly lit to add to the ambiance. The tables along the closer wall are curved booths, so all of the diners face into the main dining room.
Inside, the wood rafters and paneling add warmth and coziness with pulleys, belts, wheels, and pipes harkening back to the restaurant’s origins as a mill. The remnants of the mill serve as artwork for diners who look up toward the ceiling. A sunroom and patio off to the side increase the seating capacity, but our favorite rooms are the historic interior rooms.
Up a long flight of stairs is additional seating, including a separate room that can comfortably seat a larger group in a semi-private area.
The open kitchen and the hanging artwork along with the wood add a modern and hip feel to the historic building. During happy hour the bar hums with the sound of after-work chatter as the bartenders and staff move fast to get the evening’s libations to the clientele.
The waiter brought us the extensive beer and wine list. Ever interested in the local offerings, my friend selected a local merlot. The waiter offered his suggestion, saying that a less expensive Spanish bottle was the best deal going – great taste for a great price. We appreciated the cost savings and went with his recommendation. It was delicious.
We didn’t have bread with our meal, but on other occasions, we have indulged. The bread is a relatively thin bread with hints of salt. It melts in your mouth as you dip it in olive oil and sip your pre-dinner cocktail.
The menu mentions all of the local farmers who sourced the local products in the meal. During the summer and fall, the specials menu often features salads and entrees exclusively based on locally grown ingredients and locally raised meats.
One inviting and comforting element on the dinner menu is the availability of pizzas and burgers, in addition to the more elaborate entrees. Simple selections have no doubt contributed to Magnolia’s being a regular “go to” for the local clientele, as well as a destination for diners from further afield. With one member of our party gluten-free, this was our first look at the gluten-free menu – a rare option.
The special soft-shell crab was a temptation, as was a salad. We had tried the burgers on previous visits. They were cooked perfectly with a nice crispy bun. The shrimp and grits were another family favorite, but this time we decided to try something different: Cioppino and pizza with a gluten-free crust. We would split, to get the chance to try both options.
The cioppino came in a bowl piled high with seafood, swimming in a thick tomato broth. Two toasted pieces of French bread graced the top of the seafood, their buttery crusts glistening in the light of the dining room. The mussels, calamari and fish were tender and channeled the flavors of the broth. Two unusual additions to the classic cioppino were the asparagus and broccolini. I loved having a few extra veggies in the stew.
The gluten-free Kennet Square pizza had a downright brilliant combination of arugula, bacon, mushrooms and gruyere. The toppings were as indulgently decadent as they sound. But, the gluten-free pizza crust tasted a bit like cardboard. With so many outstanding menu items, that is one to avoid. The regular pizza is the perfect thickness with a crisp bottom and soft crust. The pizza offerings change regularly, so other pizza favorites – like a white sausage pizza – weren’t available any longer.
The salads are another highlight of the menu. The regular menu salads are classics, often with a bit of a twist. For lunch, the Hickory Grilled Flank Steak Caesar is one of my favorites. The steak is tender, the dressing delicious and the salad toppings – French fries and blue cheese – stand apart from standard Caesar salads. My only recommendation here is to get the dressing on the side, since they give you more than you’ll need.
After dinner, the dessert wine and cordials menu is extensive with selections of brandy, cognac, port, sherry, scotch and rum to suit every palate, to say nothing of the range of coffee drinks and my after dinner favorite, tea.
I went with the peppermint tea. Our waiter, always looking out for our needs, offered two tea bags for the little pot. It was a refreshing beginning to the end of our meal. Yet, the best was yet to come. The dessert menu makes for tough choices. There had to be one chocolate enough. Would we choose something fruity? Or bready? Or creamy?
For our chocolate selection, the gluten free Chocolate Story was just about perfect. Here’s the menu description: Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Mousse Toasted Meringue, Caramel Sauce. If anything, it was chocolateier than described. The different textures went well. The toasted meringue created a brown-tinged crown over the cake and ganache; its bit of crunch went well with the silky cake and ganache.
The Zabaglione also was a hit. A delicate crispy shell housed a very soft custard topped with berries. The combination of sweet and crisp was a palate pleaser. Throughout the year, Magnolia’s hosts special events with wine dinners, beer dinners, fixed price menus and holiday specials. We went for our anniversary last year, casually let them know we were celebrating, and they had a menu customized with the date and a congratulatory message. At the end of our meal, they presented us with the menu nicely rolled up with a ribbon – a charming reminder of a special dinner. Magnolia’s has such an extensive menu that it can fit many needs, whether it’s a special occasion or a quick bite or an after-work meeting at the bar.