Magnolia House

The Place
Magnolia House
492 South Lake Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
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In June of 2008, my friends and I converged on Pasadena for the summer holidays for the first time since we all had turned twenty-one. We were feverish with anticipation. We would roam free, we vowed, unencumbered by fear of being turned away by dour bouncers. We would paint our hometown red, the way we’d dreamed of doing for years.

It’s important to remember, though, that this part of our story takes place before the current demi-renaissance that Pasadena is experiencing. At that point, the anchor tenants in Old Town were, like, Moose McGillycuddy’s (RIP) and the 35er. Now, while the divey latter is still going strong thanks to the savvy ownership of its tea-party adherent ownership (or something), the former is long gone, as are most of the places that defined Old Town back then.

Suffice it to say, we turned elsewhere for our amusement, and became regulars at a local spot called Magnolia, which was located just a stone’s throw from Caltech. We would go there and order Craftsman beers, talk about the women in our lives (or the lack thereof), cast nervous glances at groups of young ladies in the bar but never work up the courage to go say hello (an affliction which, for some of us (me), stubbornly persists in present day), reminisce about the times gone by, and relish our dreams for those yet to pass. You know, all that sentimental best friends 4EVA bullshit.

A few years back, we were chagrined to find that our beloved Magnolia had closed. By this time though, Old Town was well on the rise, and the process of bar prosthesis was relatively painless. We found Lucky Baldwin’s, T. Boyle’s Tavern, and King’s Row Gastropub, and more recently, the Blind Donkey (an excellent bar with a better selection of whiskey).

Then, like a bolt from the blue, Magnolia reopened as Magnolia House. It had been redecorated, reimagined, and boasted a brand new menu of trendy shared plates (ooh, bone marrow!) and extravagantly named craft cocktails (I bullshit you not, I drank something called a Oaxacan Blood Winter, which sounds like something Cormac McCarthy would drink before unceremoniously killing everyone in a novel).

Anyway, it was reported by a reliable source (Lindsey, Kevin’s older sister) that Magnolia House had a pretty remarkable burger. Obviously, my (figurative) radar started beeping. Kevin, Greg, Sarah, and I met up at Magnolia House for drinks, and Kevin and I – being the most adorable couple at the table – split a burger.

The Order: House Burger, cooked medium

The Price: $13.00

The Burger
Sadly, my camera is acting up, so I have trouble taking pictures of the burgers. Sorry – I’ll fix that post haste. With that unpleasant little prefatory remark out of the way, let’s talk about the food.

The Magnolia House burger features house-made American cheese, bourbon onions, a dill pickle remoulade, and bacon nestled between brioche buns. (More traditional garnishes like lettuce and tomato? Not in this house.) The beef was, per server recommendation, cooked medium. At Magnolia House, this means a warm center the color of a sky teetering on the edge of sunset – just a kiss of pink. It had none of the grill-roughened blackness or sizzling charm of some of its more aggressively charred counterparts. Nor was the meat of any notable quality – for better or worse. It was juicy and well-cooked, but ultimately a fairly pedestrian centerpiece.

The devil, however, lies in the details. And the finer points of this burger are excellent. The cheese was stupendous, a milky sheet with the consistency of magma, oozing languidly over the sides of the patty. Its mild, buttery sweetness didn’t just complement the patty – it elevated it. As I ate it, I found myself surprised that Magnolia House does not advertise this as the House Cheeseburger: after all, the cheese is the star of this show.

Remoulade, for those of you who live normal lives where you don’t use absurd words like remoulade, is aioli’s slightly snobby cousin. Usually mayonnaise-based (though sometimes it’s just spiced-up aioli), it’s not actually that unusual to find chopped pickles in it. So yeah, Magnolia’s decision to call this “dill pickle remoulade” is kind of like saying “cow’s milk ice cream” – there are other ways to make it, but come on.

All that aside, the sauce is good. It’s tangy, and its consistency dovetails nicely with the cheese. They don’t cross-pollinate enough to create a confused gustatory cloud, but they interact well enough to create a suspension. The result on the palate feels like alternating flickering bursts of sauce and cheese.

The bacon and onions are also both just fine. Usually, they find themselves coated in sauce and cheese, which tend to obfuscate their pure taste a bit. In the case of the bacon, that’s not that big of a deal, because the slices are thick enough that the flavor can’t be contained, just delayed. As for the onions, the loss of their flavor isn’t too much of a loss at all, as they’re the weakest garnish. They’re flaccid from booze-drenched caramelization, and weirdly flavorless. There’s a little residual sweetness from that bourbon that’s nice enough, but nothing to write home about.

All told, the meat in this burger is brought to life by a provocative sauce and cheese combination. That’s not a customary recipe for success, but as it turns out, it is a recipe for a pretty damn decent burger.

The Ratings
Flavor: 8.80 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 8.00 / 10.00
Value: 8.00 / 10.00
Efficiency: 8.10 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 8.20 / 10.00
Bun: 8.10 / 10.00
Patty: 7.80 / 10.00
Toppings: 8.70 / 10.00
Sauce: 8.90 / 10.00
Balance: 8.40 / 10.00

Total: 83.00 / 100.00

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