With the extremely hot weather we have experienced in recent weeks, there’s nothing like a trip to some of the high-elevation mountain communities of western North Carolina for escaping the brunt of the heat.
As an added bonus, I also checked out a relatively new restaurant named Mason Jar Café during a recent visit to Newland, N.C. I was particularly intrigued by the slogan — “filled with southern tradition” — on the front of the eatery’s menu. I made the visit with my parents and a friend on a Friday afternoon.
The Mason Jar Café specializes in some creative brunch options and also offers some Daily Blue Plate Specials with its regular lunch entrees and sandwiches. The restaurant serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. There are no breakfast hours, but the brunch menu is available all day.
The restaurant is divided into two different dining areas, one on each side of the central kitchen and cashier station, as well as a sheltered outdoor terrace. We found a table in the smaller dining room, and a server soon arrived with menus and to take our beverage orders.
The Mason-jar theme extends into the interior design with light fixtures fashioned from actual Mason jars. The tabletops match the sage green upholstery of the chairs and booths. The walls are painted butter yellow, white and pumpkin orange. Framed prints featuring sunflowers, chefs and a village grocery storefront hang on the wall, as do shelves lined with more vintage Mason, Ball and Kerr jars.
We began the meal by looking over the soup and appetizer offerings on the menu. Appetizers include Cinnamon Baked Brie, Spiced Black Bean Cake, Artichoke Dip, Grilled Breaded Mozzarella, Grilled Crab Cake and Cheese Quesadilla.
I decided to share the Grilled Crab Cake with my friend, which also left me free to order a cup of soup. Soups available during out visit included French Onion, Black Bean, Broccoli-Cheese, Chili and Crab and Red Pepper. My father and I both ordered a cup of the Crab and Red Pepper Soup.
The crab cake was a moist, delicate cake served atop a bed of mixed greens and accompanied by a Pineapple Buerre Blanc. This lively sauce gave this well-prepared, fresh-tasting crab cake an additional flavor boost.
The soups also arrived as a separate course, which we appreciated. Both cups of the Crab and Red Pepper Soup were garnished with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. This creamy bisque also featured a hint of sherry and offered a rich, hearty palate treat. The only thing that would have made this soup better would have been if I had ordered the bowl rather than the cup.
When it came to considering our main dishes, my dining party was divided between those wanting to try the brunch items and those more interested in the lunch plates. Fortunately for us, the brunch items are served all day. The brunch listings include several different versions of pancakes, including Red Velvet Pancakes and Pancakes with Bananas and Pecans. Other items offered for brunch are Quiche, Omelet, Eggs Benedict, Stuffed French Toast and Breakfast Crepes.
The lunch plates include Chicken Pot Pie, Grilled Calf Liver with Bacon and Onions, Country Fried Steak, Salmon Cake, Shepherd’s Pie and Vegetable Stir-Fry. In addition, a special board advertises three Daily Blue Plate Specials — Meatloaf with Brown Gravy, Grilled Salmon and Lasagna.
The Mason Jar Café also offers a selection of sandwiches, including Reuben, Chicken Sandwich, Portabella and Swiss and a build-your-own choice between Ham, Turkey, Chicken Salad and Tuna Salad that can be fixed on a variety of breads with a choice of cheeses and toppings. Rounding out the lunch offerings are pastas and salads.
I ordered the Shepherd’s Pie, a dish I have never tried in a restaurant. My mother chose the Vegetable Stir Fry while my father and friend selected the Breakfast Crepes and Eggs Benedict.
The food arrived after only a short wait. My Shepherd’s Pie was piping-hot and still bubbling. The casserole mixture of ground beef, peas and carrots in a rich beef gravy was topped by mashed potatoes and melted Cheddar cheese. Other than having to wait for the dish to cool, I had no complaints at all about this flavorful dish.
My mother also enjoyed her Vegetable Stir Fry. She added some plump shrimp to this dish for a small additional cost. The shrimp were tossed with broccoli, zucchini, carrots, purple cabbage and mushrooms in a somewhat sweet teriyaki sauce.
The brunch items were an immediate hit. My friend loved the Eggs Benedict, which featured two perfectly poached eggs each served atop an English muffin half and topped with ham and a delicious freshly-prepared, lemony Hollandaise sauce. This dish was served with fresh fruit and grits.
The Breakfast Crepes also offered a hearty brunch item. These crepes were filled with a choice of ham or smoked turkey as well as tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, bacon and cheddar and Swiss cheese. The crepes, too, came with a topping of Hollandaise and were served with fresh fruit and grits.
Although the servers were quite friendly, at times the service lagged. On more than one occasion our drinks went unrefreshed for long stretches. Once we called attention to our need for re-fills, however, the server promptly complied.
After these filling lunches, we still saved a little room for dessert. The options include ice cream and gelato, Italian ices and a selection of cakes and pies. I chose a slice of Coconut Cream Pie while my friend ordered Chocolate Gelato. My parents each enjoyed a Mango Italian Ice, which they described as a nice and refreshing way to end the meal. My Coconut Cream Pie featured a graham cracker crust and a meringue topping sprinkled with some toasted coconut.
We enjoyed our visit to Mason Jar Café, and I would definitely like to return. Next time I might try items from their dinner menu, which includes such selections as Grilled Mountain Trout, Shrimp and Grits, Chicken Marsala and Grilled Pork Loin. It’s definitely a charming eatery nestled in the heart of the small town of Newland, N.C. I can recommend it to anyone making a trip over the mountains that also allows time for a meal.
AT A GLANCE: Mason Jar Café, 151 Cranberry St., Newland, N.C. (828) 733- 0889. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch menu items $8.99 and under; dinner entrees range from $5.99 to $16.99. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.