Those familiar with the original, cottage-like Perkins location may be taken aback by the new, brightly-lit, industrial-feeling Magpie Café location, housed in the former Three Sisters Department Store at the corner of Main and Laurel Streets downtown. Fear not. You’ll find the same sense of community that made the Perkins location a stand out.
“It was important that people feel loved and welcomed” and that the new location be a “place of security for our customers,” said Lina Jacobs, co-owner of Magpie with her husband, James Jacobs.
You’ll notice their efforts in the very design of the café. While the new location is larger, the pillowed banquets and polished, wooden tables and chairs, anchored by low-hanging lights and three suspended, wooden frames lend the café a more intimate feel than the modern setting would otherwise allow.
Yet, the café’s tiled floors and concrete columns serve to promote the perfect ambiance to complement the long, black-marbled bar that spans almost three-quarters of the back of the café. Behind that bar, flanked by various golden fixtures, is Lane Primeaux, director of the cocktail program at Magpie. A self-taught mixologist and long-time Magpie customer, Primeaux noted the growing cocktail scene in Baton Rouge and recognized the need to “step his game up.”
Numerous mixology books read and countless exploratory cocktail road-trips later, Primeaux fasted from craft cocktails in all forms for months before he set out to create Magpie’s menu to ensure he was not borrowing influences too heavily and to maintain the originality of the menu. One need look no further than the House Classics menu to see that he has been successful. The menu offers eight original cocktails to cater to all tastes and moods. To name a few: the Tres Laurel is reminiscent of Spring with honeysuckle vodka, lavender syrup, dolin blanc, lemon juice and thyme; the Paramount ushers in fall with gin, iris liqueur, black pepper syrup, lime juice, rosemary, and cardamom bitters; and the Street Car Party is a spin on the classic tiki cocktail with rum, crème de banana, warm spices from falernum, ageat syrup, lime juice, and angostura bitters. The list continues with thoughtfully curated ingredients and pairings.
“It’s all about intention and passion,” said Primeaux when he described the ideas behind the café’s house cocktails.
For those looking for something more simplistic the café offers a daily happy hour from 5-7 p.m. with a spin on an Old Fashioned that utilizes espresso-infused bourbon from Intellegentsia’s Black Cat espresso beans, a classic Margarita, and a classic Hemingway Daiquiri. The cocktail menu, like the food, will rotate with the seasons, but will be anchored by some customer favorites as the café works to discern its patrons’ palates.
The cocktail menu was not created in a vacuum. Primeaux spent many hours discussing the synchronization of the list with Executive Chef Tanner Purdum’s vision for the café’s food menu. Purdum, who sharpened his culinary skills through the supper socials offered at the Perkins location, has expanded the café’s food offerings with made-to-order dinner plates beginning at 5 p.m. and full-service brunch on Saturday mornings. At the heart of both of these menus is the elevation of local, organic Louisiana produce sourced through Indie Plate, a local grocery delivery service that operates with local farms throughout the state.
When the desired ingredients are not available on the local level, Purdum is sure to source his products from other organic, trustworthy providers.
“We wouldn’t feed our customers anything that we wouldn’t eat ourselves,” as James put it.
I arrived at the café in the full swing of brunch on a Saturday morning and was able to get a glimpse of the dishes shuttling out of the kitchen to the dining room full of hungry customers. The dishes served that day were as appealing to the eye as they were to the palate. The chicken and biscuit board arrived piping hot paired with a sweet potato biscuit, honey butter and house made brown mustard.
Ever-injecting surprises into the menu, Lina said the breading for the chicken is her own custom-made, gluten free breading, which she eventually hopes to translate into biscuit form as well. The crisp, tender chicken served as the perfect compliment to the flaky biscuit, which can be sweetened by the addition of the honey butter or cut by the house mustard. While my stomach only allowed me to partake in one dish that day, the rest of the brunch dishes looked as appealing as I am sure they were delicious.
While Purdum is afforded a great deal of discretion with the dinner menu, Lina keeps a watchful eye over the kitchen, not for a fear of inconsistent quality in the dishes, but to remain close to her love of cooking. Lina maintains her thumbprint on the food program through the Bar Nibbles program, a variety of small dishes offered at happy hour to pair with the discounted drinks. The Bar Nibbles Program is Lina’s primary way to experiment with new dishes for the café and the menu is continuing to develop. The Bar Nibbles menu is aimed at light dishes that can be enjoyed to tide you over until dinner, like the new shrimp stuffed avocado and the soon-forthcoming salad sourced from Fullness Farms, Baton Rouge’s local, organic farm run by Grant and Allison Guidroz.
Magpie’s coffee program has come a long way from the initial manually-operated machines that were used at the Perkins location while in its infancy. However, the desire to maintain consistent, properly made coffee that drove James to originally invest in manual machines has been carried over to the selection of hand-picked equipment that allows the café to achieve the same, dependable coffee its customers have come to love and expect. Of course, machinery is only as good as the person operating it and Wallace Watkins, director of coffee at Magpie, is very good.
Watkins has had her hands full training more than 12 baristas the café has hired to staff the new location. Each barista is trained for about two months to ensure that every coffee or espresso drink that is served is consistent with the café’s high standards. In terms of the coffee itself, Magpie’s house roaster is the reputable Georgia-based Intellegentsia Coffee roasters, which allows the café to offer a wide variety of rotating single-origin, blend, and espresso coffee beans.
All said, the new downtown Magpie location seeks to be more than just your go-to coffee spot. While it still strives to be your destination for your morning coffee and pastry combination or a quick, healthy lunch, it also strives to be your destination to gather with friends and decompress from your workday while you enjoy a cocktail and carefully prepared small plates. And, if the setting sun over the Mississippi so inclines you to stay, it also hopes to be your nighttime dinner destination among the ever-growing downtown Baton Rouge food and drink destinations.
Photos by Sean Gasser.