Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Mason Jar Tavern: Southern Hospitality with Modern Twist

Owned by Jonathan and Maggie Pierce, The Mason Jar Tavern is a relaxed, neighborhood-friendly outpost featuring Southern hospitality with a modern twist. Even the restaurant’s name suggests an unpretentious air of warmth and charm.

Approachable regional cuisine and efficient, friendly service keeps patrons gratified and coming back for more. Veteran chef Chris Tucker, a Virginia native who worked closely with Jonathan at Ruckus Pizza, Pasta and Spirits in Cary, finds himself at the helm of the kitchen -- and he's not afraid to take some risks. 

Evidence of Tucker’s experimental nature emerges in entrees like shrimp-n-grits, which is permeated with pimento cheese, peppers, onions and country ham, delivering diverse layers of flavor and texture. Or consider the exemplary buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with bourbon-infused maple syrup and honey butter. 

No doubt about it, Tucker knows how to elevate traditional dishes and make them stand out. Everything from salad dressings and sauces to burgers and sandwiches are crafted with precision. 

Unconventional appetizers such as buffalo chicken egg rolls, corn fritters and fried mac-n-cheese bites make you realize every aspect of the menu is well thought out. Want a beyond-the-ordinary sandwich? Order the Turkey Delicious Melt heaped with golden delicious apples, Vermont cheddar and honey mayo on sourdough.

Salads exceed expectations. Flank steak on fresh greens comes with blue cheese crumbles, sliced apples, walnuts and red onions. A smoked freshwater trout Caesar is filled with Parmesan, bacon and red onions. And then there’s the refreshing strawberry spinach salad with feta.

The house specialty burger, a mixture of ground short rib and chuck, is crowned with blue cheese, red onions, lettuce and a sweet-and-savory “bacon jam” involving slow-cooked caramelized onions and bacon. Yeah, it rocks. 

Pastry chef Brian Moore capably plays up sweet concoctions from lemon biscuit strawberry shortcake to peanut butter bomb pie. The star of the dessert portfolio, though, is the über-rich s’more in a jar, which is served warm. 

Not surprisingly, all the drinks are served in—you guessed it—Mason jars.  The TMJT Bloody Mary is served with fresh mozzarella, a boiled shrimp, pickle, olive, lime and celery with an Old Bay salt rim. The blood orange margarita is made with Jose traditional tequila, blood orange puree, house sour mix and a rock salt rim. Even shots come in tiny Mason jars. 

The restaurant’s décor reflects simplicity and functionality. The bar was hand-crafted by Jonathan’s uncle. Maggie’s father took the photos that hang on the walls. A community table situated near the bar is flanked with red metal stools provides ample room for hanging out. 

Well-trained servers and support staff keep tables turning. Upbeat front-of-house manager Emily Freund ensures that each guest has an enjoyable dining experience.  

The Mason Jar is open daily for lunch and dinner. Enjoy the covered patio anytime and live music five nights a week. Just be sure to go early to get a seat. 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0. 

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee. 

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