Best New Restaurant

 

To understand Lefty’s on the Square in Magnolia, one must first understand its backstory, of which there are two versions.

 

The short version tells of an engaged couple, Christy Ouei and Burt Adams, who opened Lefty’s in October after launching the successful MuleKick restaurant in Magnolia in 2019. The duo did a top-to-bottom refurbishment of the downtown Lefty’s building into a sleek new speakeasy motif that reflects the structure’s glory days.

 

“When we started this, we started looking at what we could bring to Magnolia that wasn’t already here. The answer was actually a lot,” Ouie said. “We’ve been working on Lefty’s since 2021, completely gutted the former coffee shop, and went back to the 1920s and what we imagined was the original vibe.”

 

As fascinating as that is, it pales in comparison to the long version of the restaurant’s origins, which Ouei delights in telling anyone who asks. The tale begins in Ireland with the birth of Francis Dalton Miller in September 1895. He immigrated to America with his family five years later. Ultimately settling in Chicago, Miller threw in with Northside crime boss Dean O’Banion and came to be known by the nickname “Lefty.”

 

In 1921, Miller and a fellow gangster visited Memphis, Tenn., and Hot Springs on assignment from the boss to sniff out new connections for bootleg liquor. A wrong turn at Arkadelphia and a brewing storm landed them in Magnolia for the night. At the Johnson Hotel, Miller sat down to a poker game with the owner, Manny Johnson, who at one point was dealt two pair, aces and kings.

 

Feeling invincible, Johnson put up the deed to the hotel against the car Miller and his companion drove up in. When Miller laid down three threes, he went from hotel guest to owner in an instant. Miller refurbished the hotel and came to be known as an upstanding corporate citizen, supporting local causes and donating a sizeable amount to build the town library. It was an open secret where much of his money came from, especially after he added the 333 Club to the property in honor of his winning hand.

 

During the era of Prohibition, however, it was probably inevitable that Miller’s luck would one day run out, and that day came in 1932. Agents from the Bureau of Prohibition raided the 333 Club, guns blazing, and Miller slipped away in the night, never to return to Magnolia. He lived out the rest of his days as F. Dalton McAffrey in Lake Village. On Oct. 13, 1973, he emerged from Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Miss., where he was shot during a stickup and died shortly after midnight Oct. 14 at the local hospital.

Lefty's

Approachable, yet elegant, dishes complement the speakeasy atmosphere at Lefty’s on the Square in Magnolia.

“It happened to be on the same night that there was another person there who was giving birth in that same hospital to a daughter,” Ouei said, “so when we opened Lefty’s on Oct. 14, 2023, it was the 50th anniversary of his death, and also my 50th birthday.”

 

She let the surprise ending sink in a moment, then said, “Yeah, the coincidences are something else.”

 

Lefty’s on the Square wears its romantic history on its sleeve. The original bar is there, illegal in its day, which the gangster-turned-proprietor shipped in under cover of darkness to elude the prying eyes of the authorities. Sharp-eyed dinner guests can still see bullet holes in the wall that were created during the 1932 raid. Ouei and Adams also formed a members-only group, the 333 Supper Club, as an homage to the original speakeasy.

 

More than the physical remains of the place’s history, however, it is the enduring spirit of Lefty’s that has captured the imagination of diners who come from near and far. Other than their experience at MuleKick, neither Ouei nor Adams have any formal chef training, but that has not stopped Adams from developing an elevated menu that includes pork shank sous vide, spatchcock chicken and an Asian-inspired ahi tuna.

 

“We wanted to bring something that people didn’t have to Google,” Ouei said. “We cut out osso buco because for people who didn’t travel much, that’s a Googleable item. If you have to Google it, you might not order it if you are intimidated by how to say the thing. We do try new things with our 333 Club members. That’s our testing ground.”

 

Ouei, who also pitches in in the kitchen as needed, takes primary responsibility for back-office duties and front-of-house customer service. For each, her standards are exacting.

 

“I like the business end of it,” Ouie said. “I like the menu engineering, and I like figuring the cost of goods, and I like working with personnel. I would way rather work short than to just have bodies that fill the space, so we do a lot of staff development.

 

“With that, we really try to help them grow as humans and not just as wait staff. Two months ago they had an assignment to come to our pre-shift meeting, and they had to bring the goals that they wanted to accomplish for the next year, three of them. Every week since, I make them tell me what they have done that week to reach those goals. We have a really special group.”

 

Now an AY About You Restaurant Award winner, an honor about which Ouie struggled to put her feelings into words, the restaurant is poised for big things in a small town. Its success, as well as that of MuleKick before it, has the owners thinking of other concepts for the future, a topic Ouei addresses in hushed tones.

 

“I would imagine there’s another restaurant in the future,” she said. “There’s so many opportunities here in Magnolia for places without repeating anything that people have done so far. Magnolia is growing, and our customer base travels. Many of them are used to different types of food, some more urban styles of food, and I think we can do that.

 

“Burt has played around with names, but I told him we can’t even talk about it or we’ll get kicked out of our own company. I had to hold my right hand up and promise my managers that I would not open anything else until Lefty’s was two years old, and I think they are going to try to hold my feet to the fire on that one.” 

 

Lefty’s on the Square

124 N. Court Square, Magnolia

870-901-3000

leftysonthesquare.com

 

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