"A dream in progress"
I have this dream that one day I'll have my own little restaurant: just 10 tables or so overlooking a stream or some other pastoral setting, where I can make people feel at home with good food and personal service.
Steve Magulias understands my dream. A similar notion led him to open a 29-seat café in 1994, where, for more than four years, he fed sandwiches to the lunch crowd.
The café's popularity grew along with its evolving menu, as Magulias allowed himself to dream of an even larger restaurant, with a banquet hall and a few smaller, more intimate dining rooms upstairs.
With confidence in his vision and some hard-won financing, Magulias' dream turned to concrete and stucco, and on Dec. 7, 1998, he moved into his new Toucan Café on Stephenson Avenue in Savannah.
Our dreams met recently when Magulias tossed me an apron and invited me to spend a few days in his kitchen, not as a mere observer, mind you, but as a full-fledged member of the crew.
During the first week or so of June, you might have enjoyed a pile of my mashed potatoes; on a hot afternoon, you may have sipped a bowl of my refreshing gazpacho; chances are I dressed your portobello mushroom; you might have had a basket of my hand-cut fries with your burger; you may have savored a big scoop of my frittatas, or a fork full of my flaky poached salmon; one of my samosas may have melted in your mouth; your sesame tuna may have rested gently on a bed of my angel hair pasta. All of these items were prepared to the café's specifications, of course; but hey, I was in my element, living a little slice of my dream, learning something every minute and having a ball, so you'll forgive me for taking some ownership!
Under the guiding hands of assistant chefs Tony McBride and Shlomi Cohen, I may have plated and garnished your crab cakes or your steak. I may have handed your meal off to Jacquie Lyerly or another member of the wait staff. Magulias, pardon the expression, let me have a little taste of everything.
The Toucan Café is, itself, a dream in progress. The upstairs banquet hall and the private nooks are still on the drawing board; nonetheless, Magulias and executive chef Jae McKenzie now serve lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Their signature dishes include a Greek burger topped with feta cheese and mustard aoli, a salmon sandwich, Caesar salads, filet mignon, and a world-class sesame-crusted tuna. There are also several Jamaican jerk-seasoned entrees, steaks and burgers. Quesadillas filled with turkey or crawfish add regional flavors to the café's eclectic menu.
The café offers a soup du jour, along with its slightly spicy Havana Black Bean standard. Vegetarian diners are not forgotten: along with the hearty portobello mushroom, the menu includes hand-packed Indian samosas with curried vegetables and a black-bean burger. For dessert, the café offers cappuccino pie and is known for its coconut kiwi layer cake. Various side dishes are available, along with a children's menu and takeout service. You can even buy a bottle or two of the café's popular Sweet Savannah Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing on your way out.
The Toucan Café is available for private parties, and Magulias has started a catering service for affairs large and small. He and his chefs will even come to your home and prepare any menu you choose.
Magulias allowed me into his kitchen because he understands the pursuit of dreams. Beyond bigger buildings and menu experiments, his evolving dream includes people. He believes in developing partnerships with his employees, even sharing the profits; he promotes responsibility and rewards initiative to make his employees better. Watch him with his guests and it's obvious he understands the value of personalized service. The wait staff follows his lead; so does the kitchen crew. Everyone in the building, it seems, understands that even though the restaurant may prepare 1,000 meals a week, each one is prepared for a single customer.
Ultimately, Magulias plans to open several Toucan Cafés with McKenzie and other potential partners. He hopes his children will grow up, embrace the restaurant business and make his dream their own.
Also see the Gourmet section for recipes
from the Toucan Café
Russ Anderson can be reached at 525-5500 or by e-mail to email@example.com