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Magnolia's at 26th a farm-fresh buffet

  By  Johanna Wilson Jones
Magnolias at 26th building

Magnolia’s feels familiar, like family, like home

         Southern cooking is highly esteemed, the Big Dipper in the culinary universe. It stands atop the mountain in multitudinous hearts around the country. Therefore, cuisine that defines itself as Southern has to be ready to bat against other cuisine styles and hit home runs in taste, finesse, and copious amounts of love you can feel in the food. Magnolia’s at 26th in Myrtle Beach can take a seat on the throne of Southern cooking and reign with confidence.

Way before farm-to-table dining was in vogue, Bobby Anderson, the founder, and owner began transporting fresh fruits and vegetables from his nearly 1,000-acre Conway farm – Anderson Farms – to 2605 N. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach. Collard greens, butter beans, squash, tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, strawberries, watermelon, and okra are among the produce featured at this hometown's favorite eatery known for its farm-fresh buffet. “The best-homecooked meal I have had in a long time,’’ Gwendolyn Hammond wrote via a Google review. “Takes me back to my (mom’s) cooking. I felt blessed to sit there.”

Hammond is not alone in her nostalgic praise of Magnolia’s. I, too, travel down the memory lane of my childhood when it was typical for country folks to grow gardens, retrieve the plentifulness, and then enjoy the harvest raw or cooked.

Each time I visit Magnolia’s, I leave room for fresh fruit. The sweetness of the strawberries and the drippy juiciness of the watermelon is always pleasing. Yet, goodness exists in various places at Magnolia’s. You must take the time and pace yourself to enjoy the delectable offerings mouths and stomachs appreciate. “For more than 30 years, Magnolia’s is the only farm-to-table restaurant on the Grand Strand owned and operated by a farmer,’’ said Michelle Sturzenbecker, Anderson’s daughter. “It’s fascinating that he’s been able to be both well and full-time.”

Anderson, a self-taught cook, gleaned lessons from his mother-in-law, Elise Sansbury. While he was still in his 20s, he opened Adrian Handy Mart. It was a Conway convenience store, where he served burgers, hotdogs, and sandwiches. Yet, over time, customers wanted more and implored him to expand his culinary offerings. Anderson obliged. He started cooking meals once a week. Then, every other day, Anderson threw down n the kitchen. Eventually, he served country meals daily. “It would still be a few more years before he tried the restaurant business in Myrtle Beach, but that mini-mart is where and why he decided that good, country cooking was what everyone really wanted,’’ Sturzenbecker said.

fresh strawberries
Family, Friends, and Folks

            Trite as it may sound, Magnolia’s feels familiar, like family, like home. You can eat what you like to your heart’s content, or until your belly is full. Well-seasoned food awaits you from a cafeteria-style form of service. You point to the food. Or say what you want on your plate, and friendly staffers do right by you.

Of course, country cooking doesn’t come easy. A degree of know-how is needed, and consistency is essential. Southern cooks should be able to deliver each time. Although there may be missteps along the way, a bona fide purveyor of country cooking knows how to recover and return with a stellar performance.

Bruce Dansby, 70, couldn’t cook until he met Anderson and Sansbury in July 1988. He was an unemployed cabinet maker who sometimes ate lunch at Café Capri, Anderson’s first Myrtle Beach restaurant.

“I knew some of the fellows from Café Capri, and I used to go over there and eat lunch with them. When I got laid off, they said, ‘Come and talk to Bobby Anderson. He might give you a job. That same day, I came to talk to Bobby and he hired me as a dishwasher.”

Dansby is now the dayside’s head cook at Magnolia’s.

 “Bobby and his mother-law, I called her ‘Grandma,’ started teaching me how to cook and ‘Shazam!’’’ said Dansby, who worked as a dishwasher for about three months before Anderson promoted him. “I’ve been cooking ever since.”

 Anderson and Sansbury taught him how to prepare Southern food.

 Dansby is now considered one of the reasons why food is consistently flavorful and enjoyable at Magnolia’s.

His longevity at Magnolia’s is evident in his bond with members of the Anderson family, especially with his daughter, Michelle Sturzenbecker.

“There is only one word for our relationship, and this is love,’’ she said. “My earliest memory is around first grade when I asked Bruce to fix me a grilled cheese sandwich while I worked on my math facts.”

Now, after a husband and four children, she has another generation that loves Bruce.

“He is still making me the occasional grilled cheese,” she said.

Fruition from Tradition

            Squash casserole is a favorite among customers, including me. It is consistently a cheesy dive into homegrown squash married to the right ingredients for a memorable side dish. Magnolia’s features seasoned food and seasoned cooks. Many staff are veterans of the food industry and Grand Strand residents. They have fun in the kitchen while working steadily and hard. “Our food makes us unique because a lot of it comes straight from the farm,’’ said Phyllis Waldo, 47, a grill cook. “It’s fresh, not store-bought.”

James Vereen, 51, the fry cook with nearly 20 years of experience, is one of the folks responsible for the fried chicken often mentioned in countless customer reviews on Google and social media platforms. “We just know how to do country food,’’ Vereen, a Horry County native. As he said this, Dansby prepared squash casserole while Mariela Teutle, 48, took on another preferred Magnolia fare – fruit salad.

Quiet and kind, Teutle is skilled with the presentation. With hotel pans as her canvas, she artfully spreads in layers of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries for a display that piques the senses.

Across the way from her, Ronnie Smalls, 64, a jack of all trades whose spent 13 years at Magnolia's, used a giant ladle to scoop smothered chicken in a large metal bowl to transport it to the buffet line, where its friends were waiting.

In the front of the restaurant, staff serves guests a smorgasbord of Southern all-stars: collard greens, green beans, cobbs of corn, stewed tomatoes, fatback, pork sausage, cornbread muffins, biscuits, spiced apples, squash casserole, fried squash, smothered chicken, chicken pot pie, fried porkchop, grilled pork chop, fried chicken, baked chicken, an array of fresh salads, peach cobbler, Boston cream pie, and numerous other desserts.

The hometown affability and toothsome food are part of the bedrock of this business built by a young country boy who just wanted to share his bounty with his family. "My dad has always believed there is nothing more important than family,’’ Sturzenburger said. “He believes that family bonds and grows around the table. Cooking is a form of service, to get your family to the table. Together.”

Johanna Wilson Jones

Johanna Wilson Jones has traveled up and down the Grand Strand tasting the foods that make Myrtle Beach restaurants hum with diners, becoming an expert on the region’s flavors. Johanna is also the host of the Finding our Flavor YouTube show where she highlights the ingredients, foods and dishes that make Myrtle Beach unique.