Ma(i)son bills itself as an intimate, farm-driven, urban cookery, and it delivers on all counts. Prior to opening its doors nearly four years ago, owners Taylor and Leeann Mason not only put great thought into the restaurant’s name and concept, but they also re-imagined the dining experience in painstaking detail.
We want people to feel that they’re dining in our home, and for the first year and a half, that was the case – we lived upstairs,” Taylor explains. “Here you’re being welcomed and taken care of rather than served. As for the name, it’s a contrived word. Our last name is Mason, and with the added ‘i’ it’s the French word for house, so in essence it’s Mason’s house.”
The BYOB restaurant seats 30; For warm weather dining, a plant-filled sidewalk terrace seats four. “The terrace is a great spot with a really European feel. That vibe carries through the restaurant since we’ll have the doors open,” he says.
Tables and a long banquette along one wall provide seating. There’s room for two at the chef’s table by the open kitchen. A wall covered in rustic barn wood sports a chalkboard that announces the daily bill of fare with eight to 10 first courses listed on the left, and four or five entrées on the right side. “I’ve gotten much better at writing on the chalkboard since we’ve added it,” Taylor jokes. “For us, the chalkboard is perfect – we focus on local ingredients, so our menu changes daily. It’s easier to use the chalkboard rather than print new menus every day.”
Ma(i)son has its own culinary garden thanks to the close collaboration between Taylor and local grower Alex Wenger. They poured over seed catalogs in January to determine this year’s produce offerings. The garden is the source of nearly 80% of the restaurant’s ingredients. Jars of preserved items are scattered along the ledge above the banquette. They not only add a touch to the décor, but they’re also used for off-season meal preparation.
“We work with what we grow here in Lancaster County. Our focus is on vegetables; we want them to taste fresh. There’s a lot of soul satisfaction in growing the food you serve – the ingredients are touched by two hands: Alex’s and mine,” Taylor asserts.
Ma(i)son is a member of the Slow Food Movement, which is rooted in Europe. “It’s all about taking the time to enjoy your food and preserving the flavors of regional cooking. For us, it’s also about buying and cooking products you care about,” he explains. That philosophy of caring is pervasive throughout the restaurant, extending to the water glasses made from the lower part of wine bottles to the dinner check that’s presented in vintage Italian leather wallets rather than the customary nondescript black folder.
Everything at Ma(i)son is made from scratch, including the European-style country loaf bread and its accompanying butter. Although items change daily, one of two menu staples is the handmade burrata (roasted Brussels sprouts, slow-cooked smoked prosciutto and onion soffrito, grilled house-made bread, extra virgin olive oil). A recent menu included pan-roasted rock fish and beef cheeks with parsnips, which is reflective of the winter menu that features richer, layered dishes. Spring and summer menus are more about bright, simple, clean flavors.
The Masons are planning to create a casual, rustic, wood-fired Italian “osteria” at a new, larger site located at 436 W. James Street by summer’s end. It will not only have space for more guests, but also a larger prep and cooking area. Taylor and Leeann lived in Napa Valley for several years, and they’re excited by the opportunity they will have to share their knowledge of wines with guests through the new wine selections. Ma(i)son will remain a BYOB establishment, while the new restaurant on James will have a full bar and full liquor license, as well as a wood-burning oven and grill.
Ma(i)son, 230 N. Prince St., Lancaster, 293-5060, Maisonlancaster.com. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Two seatings are offered: 5-6:30 p.m. and 7:45-8:30 p.m. BYOB. Reservations are highly suggested.