***** THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED *****
Magnolia Downtown wants you to eat virtuously. To that end, its provender is mostly organic. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options abound. Instead of potato chips to go with a sandwich, you get flax chips. For dessert, chocolate cake actually is chocolate zucchini cake.
As a breather from the barbecue, fried fish, grits, and gravy that are the more typical gout de terroir hereabouts, this happy downtown cafe belongs in every eater’s cache of options. From Chef Tommy Detwiler’s earnest kitchen come bright and beautiful salads, including one topped with cedar-plank-grilled salmon and another made with Carolina shrimp (sustainable ones, according to the menu) and diced mango. Some time is needed for panini because they are made from scratch, one by one, but if you are hankering for healthy, the wait is worth it for the meatless one known as Pamela’s panino: avocado, tomato, red onion, Kalamata olives, Swiss cheese, and fresh basil. I am not a wrap guy, but there is no denying the good flavor of mango shrimp, avocado, cucumber, aioli, lettuce, and tomato that come tightly enclosed in a tube that is spinach green.
A surprise winner on the menu is the Magnolia burger. It is made of grass-fed beef, which has a more complex flavor than corn-fed, but isn’t quite as juicy. It comes with buttermilk blue cheese dressing, aioli, arugula, and tomato on a toasted brioche bun. Another high-protein champ is Magnolia’s tuna salad, which is well-dressed (no mayo overload) and includes the welcome crunch of toasted pecans. As for dessert, that chocolate zucchini cake is moist, rich, and deeply chocolaty. It’s delicious alone; even better with a scoop of ice cream.
Note: in September, 2016, what used to be known as Magnolia Natural Market and Cafe changed its name to Magnolia Downtown and moved to a storefront on Lauren Street, which is Aiken’s main drag and something of a restaurant row. The folksy charm of the old place, located in a vintage cottage, has morphed into a more stylish mien in the downtown venue; a full bar has been added; and dinner hours have been extended. The menu maintains its exemplary selection of right-minded fare, prepared with skill and concern and served with great hospitality by a cadre of true believers.