Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Magic of Tyson's Corner Mall was a Magic Pan

Picture it, Sicily 1945, well not really it was more like Mclean Va., 1983. I was a wipper snapper looking for a job, and needing that pre college money for my year at school. My friend Kai Larson was working at a restaurant in the Mall and got me an interview for the job. It was the summer, it was awesome, it was the Magic Pan at Tyson's Corner Mall!

Now if you have been reading my blog you will know that I have referenced the Magic Pan Restaurant before. But for those of you who have not been a brief story.

The Magic Pan was a restaurant chain started by a Hungarian Couple , the Fono's in San Francisco in the 1970's. The original concept had been an Austrian style crepe restaurant mostly with recipes from Mrs Fono's family background. There were Ham crepes and Spinach crepes and chocolate and Strawberry crepes for dessert.

The business expanded and was purchased by Quaker Oats in the 1980's. They took the concept expanded it to a french country kitchen concept and rolled it out across the nation. The center piece of each Magic Pan was the giant tile enclosed Crepe Wheel which spun around and cooked the crepes and other dishes while the customers looked on. I remember as a 12 year old being taken to the Pan and being just mesmorized by the giant cooking wheel of crepe goodness! It was one of the first "chain" restaurants in the country in a time when the US was just beginning to discover different foods. The Pan delivered that and at a decent price point. It was also a perfect time for a crepe restaurant as like fondue, crepes were all the rage in the 1970's. The thing that was interesting about the Pan looking back was that all of the food was cooked on site with real recipes. This required a staff of cooks to be behind the scenes at all the locations and was not a cheap way to do business. Amongst the many reasons for the demise of the chain was the rise of sit down restaurants like TGI Friday's and Applebee's that offered a full service bar and menu with a central commissary supplying the chain. This meant cost savings on site and guaranteed that that food was the same everywhere. Interestingly enough this concept was pioneered by Howard Johnson's, who with Jacque Pepin at the helm produced frozen entrees which could be uniformly served all over the US.

Eventually through falling revenues and customer base the Pan collapsed. Interestingly enough the last Pan to close was the Mclean Store where I worked. A testament to Sue the manager and eventual owner I understand, who ran a tight ship and kept it afloat!

Even as people turned away from the Magic Pan because of trends so today people are looking back and recognizing the value that the concept had  not only as a novelty but as a place and a culinary experience. Whether the scene of many a boozy lunch by the ladies of Mclean or candle lit dinners for couples in love in the evenings, the quiet elegance and french country charm enveloped the diner in a world beyond the Mall and beyond their own. Upon entering the Tyson's Pan one was struck by the charm and sophistication of the surroundings. The excellent service and of course the tasty and interesting food. Food which for the time was new, foreign, and different. Before food TV, Media, food blogs and the internet., Americans were new to many of the foods the Magic Pan was serving.
And many look back with fondness to the time and place they discovered those foods for the first time. The Magic Pan.

For me the Pan was a great place to work, filled with a fun and interesting cast of characters. I learned a lot form those folks. Many of them were full time employees, I was the summer help but we all got along and they welcomed me and Kai into the fold with open arms. Salty and Rough they were the workers who make this country great. They worked hard and they played hard. But as a group they were awesome to spend that summer with. And this was where I learned that food service comes with a healthy serving of humor, cause people are very funny when it comes to their eating habits and the things they say about food. For example a young couple came in and was obviously on a date. Trying to be proper and order for his date the young man announced to me that... "she will have the St. Jacques "Creepie" and I will have the Beef  and Mushroom "Creepie"", mispronouncing the word "crepe". Well as you can imagine it was hard to keep a straight face, and the crew referred to the crepes as "creepies" the rest of the summer. Lots of milelage from that one. Ah, but it's the little things that make life fun!

Now to the food. There were serveral dishes which made the Magic Pan famous and there are people who would disagree which were their favorites. There was of course the famous Potage St. Germain, or french country pea soup served with a dallop of sour cream and a mini decanter of Sherry wine. There was the Orange Almond salad. Amongst the crepes were the chicken and beef and seafood options and then there was the famous Monte Cristo Sandwich which to this day I have never had duplicated. ( Although I hear Bennigan's ripped off the recipe). Then there were the saute pans, with veal picatta and fettucini Carbonara ( Still my favorite version ever). And lastly the desserts. All excellent washed down with the Pan's excellent Bloody Mary. ( Recipe to come)!

But today I can't think of another crepe recipe I would rather recreate than the famous Chicken Elegante Crepe. Now finding the exact recipe for this would be very difficult indeed. Just looking online leads to many deadends. However, I think that I can recreate this for you and take to the place where is would be just so tastily amazing. So without more adieu I give you...

Chicken Elegante Crepes ( As inspired by the Magic Pan)

You will need:

8 crepes ( you can make these or you can buy them pre-made at the grocery store)
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons of flour
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 egg yolks at room temp.
1/2 cup light cream at room temp.
1/4 cup parmesan
1/4 cup shredded swiss cheese

Saute butter and flour together till browned
Slowly add stick whisking in
Add chicken and next 5 ingredients
In a bowl add the eggs to the cream and slowly whisk together
Add some of the hot sauce to the cream mixture to temper it.
Then add it to the rest of the sauce
add the parmesan cheese

Fill the crepes evenly and place in the bottom of a greased baking dish or in individual baking dishes
sprinkle with swiss cheese and place under the broiler.
Serve 2 per person onto a plate and garnish with some paprika. Enjoy Ya'll!!



  1. I was in Northern VA, and was wondering whether the Magic Pan was still around. Google led me to this blog post. It brought back great memories from the Magic Pan, both as a customer and as a waiter. Terrific blog. Hope all is well with you and yours.

    1. Why Kai Larson! Happy to hear from you. Yes great memories of our time at the Pan. Things are good here in NYC. Life has certainly brought lots of interesting stories to my blog. Glad you stopped by. Hope you and yours are well too! If your ever in NYC lets have dinner again, it was great to see you years ago when you dropped by! Cheers Forrest

  2. A Magic Pan opened on 11/11/15 in Washington National Airport Terminal B/C.

  3. I'd give my right arm to know how to make the cheese fritters and dipping sauce

    1. Let me see what I can find. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Ok found it and posted it. Hope you check it out.

  4. Thank you for your blog. I miss the Magic Pan at Seven Corners. I used to go in about 2:30 - 3:00. At that time the servers were setting up for the dinner hour. Out came the cloth table linens and candles. The restaurant was quiet and elegant. Many times,I was the only one there feeling very much like royalty. My favorites? the orange almond salad and spinach crepe. It was the Potage that actually got me to eat pea soup!

    1. So glad you stopped by and thanks for your comments. It was my first real waiter job and it was a treat to work there. I loved the casual elegance the place put forward. Will have some more recipes coming. Stay tuned.

  5. I miss the Magic Pan at the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, IL. My Mom used to take me there when we went shopping and we loved it. Wish it would make a comeback! Fav crepe was St Jaques for sure!

    1. Indeed that was a yummy crepe I have the recipe for that if you would like me to post it. let me know. Thanks for your comment!

    2. Indeed that was a yummy crepe I have the recipe for that if you would like me to post it. let me know. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Could you please post it? I would love to taste those delicious crepes again! Thank you so much in advance!

  7. We Loved the Magic Pan at attains Corner and think there may have been one in Denver? My favorite salad is the Orange Almond that I copied from MP and it is still delicious!! Just use mixed greens, mandarin oranges(drained), chopped scallions, toasted almonds and the dressing is a light white wine vinaigrette with olive oil, sea salt, a little fresh oj, and dried tarragon. You can vary the fruit and nuts and still delicious!! I often add some strawberries for color. That pea soup was wonderful with the sour cream and sherry and their chicken crepes amazing too! Wish the Magic Pan would reappear!!

  8. I'm from CA, I miss the Magic Pan. After shopping at the Glendale galleria mall we stop bye to have savory crepes almond & manderine salad and S Germaine split pea soup. Crepes were made on a very large copper crepe pan in the dining room.