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Magnolia's Offers Upscale and Contemporary Interpretation of Lowcountry Cooking

By S. Mathur

While the name evokes a typically Southern setting, the food at Magnolia's actually filled in a culinary gap. When the restaurant opened in 1990, it was the first to serve Southern home cooking in Charleston. The restaurant was opened by Tom Parsell and is now run by his son TJ Parsell Jr. At the time there was nothing like Magnolias in Charleston so he saw a need for it.

Beyond filling in a need for Southern cooking, Magnolia's actually started a trend: "Magnolias ignited a culinary renaissance upon opening in Charleston, S.C. in 1990, paving the way for a new generation of Lowcountry cooking in the city and across the entire South. A staple in Charleston for 25 years, Magnolias remains a forerunner in upscale Southern cuisine, presenting traditional ingredients and cooking techniques elevated by modern flair and artful presentation", says Parsell.

While Tom Parsell was not a Southern native, his son TJ grew up in Charleston and started the Hospitality Management Group, Inc. which now owns three restaurants and an artisan meat and sandwich shop. Under the direction of Executive Chef Kelly Franz, the food at Magnolia's is inspired by Southern cooking, with some twists.

The menu features modern interpretations of traditional Lowcountry dishes like Down South Egg Roll, Shellfish Over Grits, Lump Crab Stuffed Rainbow Trout and Boiled Peanut Hummus. Guests love the mix, says Parsell."I think our guests love the fact that they come here and experience traditional dishes, but also experiment and try something new."

The restaurant is a Charleston staple and critics regularly include it in the list of the finest dining places south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The award-winning chefs combine traditional recipes with new and even international influences for meals that can still be described as delicious hone cooking. An extensive wine list complements the food.

The restaurant was renovated in 2014 and has an upscale ambience, but the menu hasn't changed much over the years, in keeping with the philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." There are a number of attractive spaces for upscale private dining, including two dining rooms on the upper level, a Wine Room looking out on the historic district, and the Primrose Room.

Diners keep returning for the upscale comfort food and the only problem they seem to face is making a single choice out of all the menu items available. Magnolia's gives back to the community through participation in the annual Chef's Feast, which raises funds for the Lowcountry Food Bank.

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