Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 1st 2014

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Food Spotlight: The Magnolia

By Ashley Hardaway

Neighborhood bars and restaurants: something that we get in concept (after all isn’t that an Applebees slogan?), but something that’s hard to find an authentic version of in, you know, real life.
The Magnolia however, is a new cafe/bar that harkens back to the original notion of neighborhood bars and restaurants: independently owned and operated and influenced by the tastes and experiences of its owners: Kiley Bolster and Bill Manning.

“Originally the plan was to move to Hawaii, but then we got there and discovered that it wasn’t our idea of paradise,” Kiley explains and so her and Bill kept traveling. Eventually they made their way back to the mainland and once here they kept moving, discovering micro-breweries and going on wine tours, stopping at dive bars and exploring off-the-beaten path cafes. They crisscrossed the nation with abandon and eventually, all their nonsensical traveling brought them back home: to Pensacola. And like Dorothy who had to run off to Oz to appreciate Kansas, these two had to go to Hawaii to realize paradise, was here all along. Adorable right?

Kiley finishes telling me her backstory as she presents me with a bowl of white chili. “It was supposed to be a special, but people have been liking it so much it might have to just go on the menu.” I agree as I try it: chunks of chicken breast and garbanzo beans, smoothed out with sour cream. The menu at Magnolia is full of simplistic favorites that are reminiscent of things your mother would make for you: grilled pimento and cheese, chicken salad on Hawaiian sweetbread rolls, pumpkin mousse. The prices too reflect this sensibility: comfort food classics that make this a neighborhood hangout you could quite literally patronize daily.

“This might be the best part about my new career path,” Bill says as he cracks open a can of beer. With a background in recording and music technology, and having spent the last ten years in the audio and visual field, you can see how perhaps his personality translates through the building’s remodel. The back wall has been taken out opening up what was the small dining area. The dark red paint has been replaced with a calming blue and a sleek wooden bar spanning the length of its side it was built, welcoming new patrons with cushy barstools and some seasonal drafts.

“I wish my house had a porch like this that I could drink on,” someone said as they make themselves comfortable on the front stoop’s chairs. As they’re saying this another guy comes in, propping up his bike against the sidewall, not locking it up the way people used to do. And for the first time in a long time the safety freak in me doesn’t fixate on the bike the whole evening looking out for bandits. After all, this is a neighborhood joint I’m in. This is old school America. This is Magnolia.

THE MAGNOLIA
WHERE: 2907 E. Cervantes Street
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday