Magnolia’s Serves Up Cuisine Made with Local Ingredients in Macomb
When Lisa Ward, an East Coast native who grew up in Alabama, moved to Macomb with her Midwestern husband and started a catering business, she had no intention of opening a restaurant. But that’s what the people wanted – including the mayor, whom Ward had gotten to know – so she and her husband saved up enough to buy a corner building on the downtown square, which would eventually become home to Magnolia’s.
That was 24 years ago, and Magnolia’s has become a dining staple in town, specializing in delicious food with zero pretension.
“People think it’s an upscale restaurant, but we’re really not,” Ward says. “I never went to culinary school; I’m not a famous chef. I’m just a girl who worked hard and got lucky.”
Diners might consider themselves the lucky ones when they dig into dishes such as the popular 10-ounce Bama Bleu filet, a Midwest-grown steak smothered in bleu cheese, or the grilled salmon, marinated in bourbon, brown sugar and Dale’s Steak Seasoning sauce (an Alabama staple). Another unique item on the menu is the Grouper Mojito, fish soaked in St. Croix rum, lime and mint-infused simple syrup. Ward’s Southern upbringing also comes through in the spicy Cajun calamari and bacon-wrapped andouille sausage bites.
Visitors come from miles around for a taste of Ward’s homemade desserts, including her famous frozen key lime pie, and more than 100 flavors of cheesecakes and cupcakes (her best is called “The Kenny,” a chocolate concoction filled with peanut butter buttercream and named after a regular patron).
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To give back to the community that has embraced her cooking over the years, she’s hosted an annual long-table dinner downtown the last three years in partnership with Terstriep Farms and Good Hope Gardens – along with downtown development coordinator Kristen Terry and McDonough County Farm Bureau Manager Sarah Grant. Selling out each time, the event has raised $20,000 to date for three local FFA chapters.
“I’m so proud of what this event has morphed into – everyone comes together,” Ward says. “It’s a good way to remember America is built on the farmer. I think we forget that sometimes.”