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Maggie for the Masses 

by Lauren McAllister


Maggie's is one of several new little neighborhood restaurants to open on the South Hill's busy 29th Avenue. The concept is designed to fill a unique niche -- good food served quickly, prices kept reasonable by having self-serve seating and ordering at the counter. The location, a former fast-food fish joint, has been transformed into a pleasant little dining room, with walls tinted golden yellow and adorned with interesting wrought iron filigree pieces.


Our foursome arrived at Maggie's on a Friday evening, right about supper time. Apparently, a lot of other folks had the same idea, as there was a bit of a line. We were instructed to seat ourselves, which we tried to do, but unintentionally provoked the ire of a diner who was headed for the same table. Still, we soon spotted another table, albeit one not yet cleaned, and settled in to peruse the menu. A well-meaning dining room attendant wiped the surface with a big wet rag, ensuring we kept our elbows off the table.


My partner and I decided to split the mixed greens salad ($5), while our companions split a Maggie's signature salad ($6). Even after being split (at no extra charge), both were generous portions. Their signature salad includes olives, red onions, tomatoes and penne pasta with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Ours included cucumbers, tomatoes and croutons. With the exception of the under-ripe tomatoes, both salads made use of good ingredients, but had scarcely any dressing on them. The busy dining room, and the self-serve set-up, made it difficult to figure out who to ask for more dressing.


The menu includes a little bit of everything. There are sandwiches -- including a chicken Caesar wrap ($8), Maggie's salmon salad ($8) and a roasted pork sandwich ($9) with balsamic onions and demiglace sauce. All sandwiches include a side of homemade potato chips, roasted veggies or potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, pasta salad, green salad or a cup of soup.


There's lasagna -- meat or vegetarian ($9), which is served with a salad, and so is the chicken pot pie ($9). Entrees come with potatoes or rice and skewered roasted vegetables. Among the choices are a flat iron steak ($15), roasted honey ginger chicken ($11) and broiled lemon shrimp skewers ($13).


Let's start with the least successful entree and get it out of the way. I chose the grilled sliced pork loin. Even now, writing that, I realize the problems it portends. Grilling those thin, low-fat pork loin slices is a challenge for any chef -- you're nearly assured to produce dry, tough meat.


Et voila, that's just what occurred. To make matters worse, the mashed potatoes, while tasty, were cold. OK, not totally cold, but they weren't hot, and the side of skewered roasted veggies was neither skewered nor roasted, but instead nearly raw. All in all, this entree was a strikeout.


Next batter up! Thai chicken appears on the menu in a wrap sandwich ($8) and with noodles ($11). One of my companions chose that Thai noodle option and was quite pleased with this spicy entree. Bathed in a rich but tangy peanut sauce, thick noodles were served with sliced grilled chicken and a crispy cabbage slaw that added texture and welcome coolness. My companion declared she would order it again, while her husband plotted how to get to the leftovers before she did the next day.


Both of our dates chose the pan-seared ahi ($15). Encrusted with black sesame seeds and served with wasabi aioli, the kitchen managed the tuna much more capably than the pork. Tuna is hard to beat, and this was a very tasty entree, with both guys achieving membership in the clean plate club.


A bit of a glitch occurred with our dinners in that the wait after our salads was substantial. To her credit, Maggie herself stopped by our table and offered to get us something to munch on while we waited for the first set of entrees. Unfortunately, there aren't any appetizers on the menu, and we had already had salads. The Thai noodles and the grilled pork finally arrived, but another delay ensued before the tuna entrees arrived. At that point, Maggie insisted on complementary desserts for everyone. This is a gracious way to admit a mistake and get everyone in good spirits, and we appreciated the gesture.


Desserts ($5) are not made on the premises, but they were pretty tasty nonetheless. The crowd favorite was the turtle cheesecake with a gooey caramel topping.


Maggie's has a lot of potential -- a menu featuring a variety of fairly basic, but freshly prepared dishes at reasonable prices, with cheerful service in an upbeat atmosphere. Based on the crowd we witnessed, there's a demand for this style of dining, and our experience may simply have been a case of a new restaurant straining under too much success too fast. If Maggie's can resolve a few glitches with service and prep, inquisitive new customers should become regulars.





Publication date: 03/31/05

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