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Magnolias at the Mill, Purcellville, VA - Chef Erik Foxx-Nettnin at 198 N. 21st Street

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My wife and I have adopted the Sunday habit of driving to Leesburg for excellent salads and exemplery soup at Kevin Malone's rustic Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg. The front of this is a tavern that we've enjoyed for a number of years, especially on a cold winter's night. Recently, we learned that he had opened a new restaurant in Purcellville, about 15 miles further out into Loudoun County. Today, with the temperature hovering around 80 we put the top down and drove out to explore.

To say that Magnolia is a converted grain silo from the 19th century is an injustice. To say that it sits at the absolute end of the Old Dominion Railroad trail does not capture the ambience of sitting on the patio overlooking the trail. This is a five story high mill that has seen at least several million dollars worth of investment. The result is an absolutely breathtaking wooden cathedral with ceilings approaching a fifth or six floor, planked flooring and brick and stone in every direction.

Why Sietsema hasn't been out here yet is absolutely beyond me: it opened two years ago.

Our expectation was for the same food that we have found in Leesburg at Tuscarora. Our disappointment was not finding it.

This is a very abbreviated "review" since we only scratched the surface of this remarkable restaurant's menu. My hope is that Kevin Malone, the owner, might read it and change a few things before Sietsema or Kliman decide to take a Sunday drive to Purcellville.

My wife and I each ordered a soup, one the soup of the day which essentially was chicken broth with a few veggies. The other was a very good version of Rao's Vodka Sauce for pasta. Neither was on par with the excellent half dozen soups we've had over the years at Tuscarora Mill. We each had the salad of the day. What is important about my comment is the size of the "dinner" salad: anemically small. In Leesburg dinner salads are not nearly as large as, say, Houston's or Sweetwater. But they are better, perhaps, much better. And a bit larger. At least twelve bites if not more. This was considerably smaller than what we have found in Leesburg. After eight or nine bites we were finished. I've never measured a salad before by the number of bites but the size of this inspired that consideration-there were so few!

When I later received the check I could not believe that these salads could cost as much as they did: approximately a dollar a bite! Even the best flavored lettuce does not warrant this.

Entrees being served around the room and on the patio looked delicious: we thought that, maybe, we had ordered wrong which would justify a return. After all, we fell in love with the ambience and the incredible effect that the remodelling of the building had on diners: gorgeous, atmospheric, the fantasy realization of anyone driving through the Virginia countryside looking for a good restaurant with a great deal of "personality" to have dinner at. This was it.

But at least a few courses need work. We'll be back soon for the main courses and dessert. Definitely worth the trip, if only for a glass of wine...

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Why Sietsema hasn't been out here yet is absolutely beyond me: it opened two years ago.

How do you know that Tom as not been out there? From what I just read it does not seem that it would be worth it for anyone to head out there. Should he write up every mediocre place that he visits?

The building may be interesting if you are in the area.

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Every small Virginia town seemingly has its "restaurant by the train station," and Purcellville, where the W&OD Trail ends shortly after mile marker 45, is no exception.

Magnolias at the Mill is Purcellville's "detour off of Route 7" restaurant, with a charming, historic mill as its location, a full selection of good beers, and one heck of a talented crew working pastry.

I arrived just in time to see the Nats getting shellacked in game #2 against St. Louis, and took a seat at the bar to watch the carnage over a Williamsburg Aleworks Caledonia ($5.50) which the entertaining beer menu describes as "Scottish Ale at its best" - honestly, it was just too hoppy for me to consider as a great example of a Scotch Ale, so much so that it almost prevented me from ordering a second one.

The beer list is a strong point at Magnolias, featuring 29 drafts, and a description of Bud Light which says, "You can almost tell it's beer." What's not to like? In addition, they have a significant "Big Bottle" selection featuring larger format bottles from across America and around the world. Justin, my bartender, was kind and enthusiastic.

My first choice for an entree, a "Wood-Grilled Bone-In Pork Chop (Loudoun County 4H)," a daily special, was 86'd, so I changed my order altogether, starting with a salad.

I rarely order salads in restaurants "such as this" (charming places out in the "country") because of the exact reason I shouldn't have ordered it tonight: despite sourcing local and seasonal ingredients, the whole is almost never greater than the sum of its parts, and is often less.

No exception here. The Endless Summer Harvest Salad ($9), was, despite the same name, completely different on the paper menu than the internet menu. My version consisted of oak lettuce, dates (cut to look like sliced olives), (soft) candied pecans, smoked Gouda, and cranberry vinaigrette, and the salad was nothing more than the ingredients piled on a plate - exactly what you'd do when tonging together a salad at Whole Foods' salad bar. Essentially, if you think this combination of ingredients would appeal to you, then sure, order it; and if you don't, then steer clear. For my palate, there was no magic here at all, and it tasted very much like a poorly conceived salad-bar salad. The salad, incidentally, came out almost instantly, certainly in less than several minutes - it was assembled in haste, and it showed.

However, there was an early standout: the basket of Focaccia (gratis) with a ramekin of sweet-salty butter which forced me to take note of the Pastry Chef, Marcy Mergler, for the first time. This was excellent focaccia which was better than what I'd had two weeks before at Robert Donna's Al Dente. Example number one.

From the "Magnolia's Specialties" section, I ordered the Pork Scallopini Involtino ($22.75) with prosciutto, aged Provolone, asparagus, Asiago polenta, caramelized shallots, and Madeira mustard sauce. Unlike the salad, this took at least twenty minutes to be prepared, and I suspect not many people were ordering it on this Monday evening. An involtino is essentially a roulade - a meat rolled around a stuffing - and this was an honorable attempt at a dish which failed. It came out inedibly hot, the cheese inside was liquified, it was very salty, and most importantly, it was so herbaceous as to be unenjoyable. Magnolias at the Mill sources well, and I believe one of the things it has access to is good, fresh, local herbs. The problem with this is that these herbs, in the hands of an overzealous chef, or inexperienced line cook, are such an exciting find that there becomes a need to "highlight" them. "Diners! Look at these babies!" Unfortunately, fresh herbs are so much more potent than their dried counterparts that they can easily overwhelm a dish if not applied sparingly, and such was the case here. I could not get past the herb-dominance of this dish, no matter how I tried, and whoever is cooking it needs to avoid the temptation to show off their superior product, and treat these as the restrained embellishments they are meant to be, no matter how good or fresh they are. It hurts me to say this more than you might imagine because I am, in essence, discouraging the (over)use of an excellent product.

With the involtino, I ordered a Left Hand Milk Stout ($6) from Longmont, Colorado, and I wish to stress that the three things that stood out here were the beer selection, the atmosphere, and Example number two: the Parmesan-like tuile that came with my involtino. Like the focaccia, I believed this tuile must have been at the hands of the Pastry Chef, and as silly as it might sound, I began to develop a quiet kinship with Marcy Mergler - enough so that, despite being very full, I felt a moral obligation to order a third thing under her jurisdiction.

With my check, I ordered an Individual Key Lime Tart ($7) with graham cracker crust and pomegranate reduction to take home with me.

When I got home, I had a text message from two restaurant friends of mine who wanted to stop by and pick up some wine that I was holding for them (it was Eric and Celia). "How about a glass of wine?" I said. Well, they weren't going to turn that down after their extremely disappointing Italian dinner in Falls Church. "And I have what might be a really good dessert to go with it," I added.

I plated the key lime tart, with three forks, and opened a bottle of 1959 Gaston Huet Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Sec that I just knew would pair perfectly with this, and sure enough, it did. The 53-year-old Chenin Blanc was magnificent, and the bone-dry, "sec" nature ("sec" means "completely dry") all of a sudden showed some fresh sweetness alongside the beautifully executed key lime pie. "I don't even really like key lime pie, but I really like this," I said. "Well I do like key lime pie, and I really like this," Eric said. Marcy had batted three-for-three on this evening. Kudos to a very fine pastry chef, laboring in anonymity out in Purcellville.

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I had a dinner meeting at Magnolias a few months ago, and didn't post about it because I just didn't know how to say it, but Rocks captured it (of course) describing the salad and the pork. Something is lacking between concept and execution. There's a place (or two) in upstate New York to which I have the same reaction. It's as if a fairly talented chef went to The Big City and peeked into some restaurant windows and saw the ingredients and plating, then went home to the country to try to replicate what he saw, but never really quite "got it".

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With a soccer game out in Berryville, I decided to take the family to Magnolias at the Mill, where we had not been for a few years.

Sadly, I can no longer consider Magnolias to be a destination restaurant. The focaccia as Don noted was indeed really good, but mostly everything else was meh. The Forest Mushroom pizza was particularly tasteless. When I see mushrooms highlighted like that, I expect the pizza to really pack a mushroom punch. This was not that. You could barely taste the mushrooms, could not taste the roasted tomatoes at all, and even the cheese was bland.

And speaking of salads that don't quite come together, my Grilled Steak Caesar had fries mixed into the salad -- subtraction by addition -- and just a few crumbs of the promised blue cheese.

My daughter ordered from the children's menu the Grilled Steak with Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes, for $11.50. She got a full plate of food that would have been an ample meal for an adult, including about six pieces of nicely grilled meat. They should really cut the portion, and the price, in half. It's way too much for most kids. Conversely, my son's Penne was a sad joke, he asked for it with butter and parmesan cheese -- what he got was about 20 cents worth of plain pasta in a bowl, with two small bowls of butter and cheese on the side. Pathetic for $6.50.

Even the lemonade was odd -- it had what I think was a very strong Meyer Lemon flavor. My daughter could not drink it. It was ok in my Arnold Palmer.

Not regrettable, just forgettable.

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My husband and I took a drive out to Purcellville on a whim this morning, and found our way to Magnolia's at the Mill for lunch. It is a nice space, not unlike its sibling, Tuscarora Mill, in Leesburg. I was pleased to find a gluten-free menu (with the usual caveats about possible cross-contamination--I had no adverse reaction).

We shared an app of crispy fried oysters (in a cornmeal crust) with remoulade and bacon jam ($14). The oysters were indeed crisp, not greasy, and fresh and clean-tasting. I don't recall the last time I had fried oysters. They wanted a grain or too of salt, but otherwise were very enjoyable.

My husband had the smoked pastrami brisket sandwich with hand-cut fries ($14). He really enjoyed it, and that's about all I can say about it.

I had the steak frites ($16). The flank steak was grilled over a wood fire to a perfect medium rare as ordered, sauced with a red wine jus and hotel butter on the side. It was delicious! The parmesan truffle fries were a bit "fancy" and I would have been happy with plain fries, but they were fresh and nicely cooked--not really greasy. I have no fondness for arugula and regretted not thinking to ask them to leave it off the plate. I tried it and it was OK.

I thought the prices were reasonable, and the service was excellent. Our food arrived promptly and hot. I'd surely go back again, even though it's an hour's drive each way from our house.

Oh, and I'm not sure when the change occurred, but the executive chef is Erik Foxx-Nettnin.

Magnolias crispy oysters.jpg

Magnolias pastrami brisket sandwich.jpg

Magnolias steak frites.jpg

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We had brunch there with friends this past weekend. I was impressed by the atmosphere and hospitality. Food was quite good, and the drinks were creative. If I were visiting and/or lived in the area, I'd say it was a contender for a local favorite.

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