I found Magnolia Bistro entirely by accident when my mom and I were vacationing in Burlington, VT last week. A Google search led me to the menu on their website, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained a lot of vegan-friendly options. It also holds the distinction of being Green Restaurant certified and is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network. The website states that Magnolia “make[s] an extra effort to utilize organic products and support dedicated farmers committed to sustainable agricultural practices.” Using local food means two things: one, they’re supporting the local economy and two, it should have a lot more flavor than something that’s been trucked across the country. Win-win situation in my book!
To get to Magnolia, you go up St. Paul St. from the center of town and take a left through a small courtyard to a multi-purpose building at 1 Lawson St. Then you head into the building and go down a short flight of stairs. Right at the bottom, you can take a look at the menu while you’re waiting to be seated. Even though the place was bustling when Mom and I first went there, we didn’t have to wait long. In no time, we were greeted by a server and shown to a cute little table under the window. (You can sit outside, too, but whether or not you do depends on if you mind smelling food cooking at another restaurant right next door.)
Magnolia is a cute place. The interior is mostly brick with solid wooden tables and chairs spaced throughout. One side is slightly elevated; the other is lower and sits closer to the outdoor eating area. (Even the bathroom is kind of cute; the ladies room sports bright, warm colors and quotes lettered in gold all over the walls. There’s also a compost bin for paper towels!) It’s well-lit but not too bright, and you’ll find local art hanging on the walls. The day Mom and I were there, the paintings on display around the restaurant were all of a splattered, colorful style that made me think of galaxies and Jackson Pollock.
Our waitress brought us water in awesome goblet-style glasses while we looked at the menu. I’d checked it out online before we got there and had my eye on a garbanzo burger, which wasn’t listed on the in-house menu. Though I do wish restaurants would have their most current menus up on their websites, it turned out not to be a problem because the new menu was even better! In place of the garbanzo burger, there was a quinoa apple burger, served with cranberry compote on locally made whole wheat bread from the Shelburne Farms O’Bread Bakery. “Impressive” is the only word for all the sides there were to choose from. We’re talking ten sides including home fries, quinoa salad, rice, broccli and kale. Of course I had to get the kale! Mom tried the same burger but with home fries on the side.
The rest of the menu doesn’t skimp when it comes to vegan options. Being a breakfast and lunch bistro, Magnolia offers standard fare like scrambled eggs, home fries and French toast along with unexpected dishes like a coconut peanut tofu scramble. In fact, in addition to several tofu-specific scrambles, they offer the option of substituting tofu in any of their egg-based dishes. There’s also homemade granola, vegan walnut French toast, seitan to add to salads and a chickpea “tuna” sandwich adorably named “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” All vegan items are clearly marked with a V on the menu; they also have a G to indicate gluten-free offerings.
Being there during the lunch rush meant that we had to wait a little while to get our food, but I didn’t think it was an unreasonable wait given the time of day. When our meals arrived, we dug right in. The quinoa apple burger was incredible! Sweet and crunchy with a smooth texture accented by the heartiness of the bread, it was truly a unique vegan burger. The cranberry compote was a good complement with its own sweetness (but not too sweet). Even the kale had a little bit of sweetness to it, which I’ve noticed only in locally grown, recently harvested kale. It arrived warm, which I’ve found is unusual for restaurant food, so I knew everything was fresh. In fact, everything was so good that we went back a couple of days later to try some other dishes!
My second Magnolia meal was the Southwest bean burger with chipotle “mayo.” It was also served on whole wheat O’Bread, and this time I got the house salad as a side. It arrived with two huge pieces of heirloom tomato that were so beautifully orange that I honestly can’t remember what other vegetables were with it besides spring mix. (The photo suggests that cucumbers made an appearance.) Another slice of the same tomato was with the burger. The burger itself was a hearty patty of black beans, bread crumbs and an array of veggies, all nicely complemented by the spiced vegan mayo. I probably shouldn’t have eaten the entire thing in one sitting, but I did. It was just that good.
Bottom line? Magnolia is worth a stop (or two, or three) if you’re in Burlington. The atmosphere is relaxing, the staff is friendly and they’re more than willing to accommodate food preferences. Our waitress wasn’t bothered by my request of low oil, oil salt cooking or that the surfaces be cleaned to avoid cross-contamination with dairy. So no matter what your dietary concerns are, Magnolia is a great place to get fresh, local food.