Edible DC Early Winter/Holiday 2014 : Page 6

NOTABLES Left to right: Mason Dixie’s twist on a classic, the Fried Chicken Biscuit • The Mason Dixie team, from L-R: Mo Cherry, Jason Gehring and Ayesha Abuelhiga. NOT JUST WHISTLIN’ DIXIE: THE BUZZ ABOUT BISCUITS Maryland food entrepreneurs win Mess Hall’s Launch Pad Challenge Words by Tim Ebner • Photographs by Space Division Photography T here’s a line, and it goes out the door, down the building and almost to the next block. No, these people aren’t waiting in line for a concert—it’s not even for a celebrity meet-and-greet or book signing. These people are in line on a Saturday morn-ing for biscuits. At Mason Dixie’s first pop-up in Washington, D.C., back in early August, this line, at least a hundred deep, formed outside the Dolcezza Gelato factory in Georgetown. Surprisingly, no one seemed to complain. After a 20-minute wait and a single bite into their fluffy biscuit sandwich, it immediately became clear why patience truly is a virtue: This is a biscuit worth the wait, baked fresh and packed with flavor, including a maple syr-up aioli that’s lip-smacking good. Created by Maryland natives Ayeshah Abuelhiga, Mo Cherry and Jason Gehring, Mason Dixie is not just a one-trick pony that’s here today, gone tomorrow like some pop-ups. In just three months, the business sparked a “biscuit mania” of sorts with sev-eral co-hosted events, with the backing of well-known area chefs like Roofers Union’s Marjorie Meek-Bradley and Russell Jones from Jack Rose. Their latest success story is one worth $500,000. In September, Mason Dixie won a culinary incubator challenge called Launch Pad. The prize money is really an invest-ment opportunity awarded by Mess Hall, a commercial kitchen space located in D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood. The prize also in-cludes tax, publicity and consulting work that the company will need to grow, adding to the $28,000 raised earlier this year from a public Kickstarter campaign. The next step is a shop to call their own. “We’re all in the industry. We’re young. We don’t have deep pockets,” says Abuelhiga, 6 | EDIBLE DC | EARLY WINTER/HOLIDAY 2014

Notable Edibles

Words by Tim Ebner • Photographs by Space Division Photography

NOT JUST WHISTLIN' DIXIE: THE BUZZ ABOUT BISCUITS

Maryland food entrepreneurs win Mess Hall's Launch Pad Challenge

There's a line, and it goes out the door, down the building and almost to the next block. No, these people aren't waiting in line for a concert–it's not even for a celebrity meet-and-greet or book signing. These people are in line on a Saturday morning for biscuits.

At Mason Dixie's first pop-up in Washington, D.C., back in early August, this line, at least a hundred deep, formed outside the Dolcezza Gelato factory in Georgetown. Surprisingly, no one seemed to complain. After a 20-minute wait and a single bite into their fluffy biscuit sandwich, it immediately became clear why patience truly is a virtue: This is a biscuit worth the wait, baked fresh and packed with flavor, including a maple syrup aioli that's lip-smacking good.

Created by Maryland natives Ayeshah Abuelhiga, Mo Cherry and Jason Gehring, Mason Dixie is not just a one-trick pony that's here today, gone tomorrow like some pop-ups. In just three months, the business sparked a "biscuit mania" of sorts with several co-hosted events, with the backing of well-known area chefs like Roofers Union's Marjorie Meek-Bradley and Russell Jones from Jack Rose.

Their latest success story is one worth $500,000. In September, Mason Dixie won a culinary incubator challenge called Launch Pad. The prize money is really an investment opportunity awarded by Mess Hall, a commercial kitchen space located in D.C.'s Brookland neighborhood. The prize also includes tax, publicity and consulting work that the company will need to grow, adding to the $28,000 raised earlier this year from a public Kickstarter campaign. The next step is a shop to call their own.

"We're all in the industry. We're young. We don't have deep pockets," says Abuelhiga, Mason Dixie's CEO. "This has helped us. Now we need to grow into the market and eventually open our own place."

While Mason Dixie has not found a shop just yet, the partners say they are on the hunt for a downtown location with enough activity to keep tables full, both at breakfast and lunch. In October, Mason Dixie worked out of a temporary pop-up restaurant, called EatsPlace in Petworth, but the team quickly withdrew from the space, due partly to a slower than expected lunch business, Abuelhiga says.

But to fully understand the Mason Dixie success story, first you have to see them hustle. Meeting up with the team one Sunday morning for brunch, each of the three partners looks exhausted.

"We maybe got four hours of sleep last night," Abuelhiga says. "But, we wake up in the morning because people are waiting for us." The night before, the team did several hundred covers at a late-night pop-up in Adams Morgan, waking up early the next morning for a radio interview to promote their business.

It's a caffeine-fueled brunch and Abuelhiga is joined by Mason Dixie's chef, Jason Gehring, who previously started Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken. Gehring is the one behind the light and airy biscuits; he also hails from Maryland's Eastern Shore and a line of Perdue chicken farmers, so naturally he's in charge of the fried chicken recipe for their chicken and biscuit sandwich.

Then there's "supertaster" Mo Cherry. Abuelhiga calls him by this name because he's also the sommelier at Fiola Mare in Georgetown, using his exceptional palate as Mason Dixie's sandwich builder, including flavor combinations like the breakfast biscuit with egg, Benton's bacon, cheddar cheese and maple aioli. Soon, Cherry says he'll pay homage to his home state with a Chesapeake Bay biscuit, but only when crab season returns.

"We're all Marylanders, it's in our name, and we love Old Bay," he says.

The team is continuing to test and experiment with the menu, but so far the biggest surprise has not come from the kitchen, Cherry says. "We're really surprised by all the buzz. That's how people find us."

In the meantime, the Mason Dixie team will continue to move around and hustle until they can find a permanent space to call their own. The next opportunity to sample their biscuits will be on November 15 and 16 at The Emporiyum food festival.

"This is still a grassroots effort, and really it's showing that the city really wants us." •

Find out more about where to get fresh biscuits at MasonDixieBiscuits.com

ANGRY ARTICHOKES: THE CARDOON

By Laura Hayes

The artichoke has an ornery, seemingly good-for-nothing cousin called a cardoon. The thorny thistle resembles celadon-colored rhubarb, and is about as much work to get on a plate as diving for precious abalone.

Chef Tarver King of the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm even questions if we're meant to eat them because of their bitterness. "Back when we were figuring out what was edible, we watched what bugs gravitated towards," says King. "Bugs won't even eat cardoons–so whoever first tried them was desperate."

Despite this statement, King loves to use them in the kitchen he helms at the Lovettsville, Virginia, restaurant, where the cardoons grow steps away from the dining room.

In preparation for dinner, King hacks off some stalks before heading into the kitchen for complicated knifework to remove the fibrous bits, all while avoiding the plant's thorns. He then boils the stalks nine times to extinguish the bitter flavor–a must. King also washes his hands more than a physician, because the bitterness can cling and contaminate other dishes.

The chef serves the vegetables of his labor in a riff on a French Provençal dish called Artichokes Bargoule, traditionally made of stewed artichokes, wine, lemon, olive oil and herbs. Other popular preparations for the tricky thistle include breading and frying them; baking them into focaccia; and making cardoon pizza.

Finally, there's Cardamaro–an Italian digestif amaro that can be sipped after dinner or in a cocktail. "The cardoon is steeped in aged wood, so it has a pleasant, sweet sherry-like quality that's like a very mild Fernet Branca," King says. Buy it at Schneider's Fine Wines and Spirits on Capitol Hill, but note that it must be special ordered.

Want to try your hand at taming this beast? The P Street location of Whole Foods Market in D.C. sells them from November through the winter months. Call ahead to see if other locations carry them. They're also periodically available at FRESHFARM Markets.

MOVE OVER, MAPLE–HERE COMES HICKORY

by Chelsea Moore

Joyce Miller believes her Falling Bark Farm hickory syrup "tastes like a memory," bringing some customers to tears after a spoonful of the forgotten flavor that has the power to evoke the goodness of the past.

Locally foraged and made from the fallen bark from the shagbark hickory tree, over the past three years Joyce and Travis Miller have created a hickory syrup business that has grown beyond its start at the Purcellville Farm Market; Falling Bark Syrup can now be found on the shelves at Whole Foods and Fresh Markets, is in use by Washington-area chefs, and is sold at wineries and Christmas tree farms across the region, as well as at Mount Vernon's gift shop.

To make the syrup, the Millers collect bark, scrub it clean and then flame-roast it. From there they boil it into a tea, add sugar and turn it into an extract. Their Berryville, Virginia kitchen transforms into a syrup production facility as the couple begin boiling, bottling and labeling. The finished product has a smoky quality that serves as a tasty complement to squash, sweet potatoes or as a grilling glaze for meat.

Falling Bark Farm offers five flavors: original, vanilla, brandy, brandy vanilla and a limited-release syrup aged in a rye whisky barrel from Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville, Virginia. Other upcoming collaborations are with a Pennsylvania brewery for a hickory-syrup flavored beer and a barbecue sauce company to create a new hickory-infused sauce.

Eight-ounce bottles start at $14 and can be ordered from their online shop at WildwoodsHickorySyrup.com.

Read the full article at http://digitaleditions.sheridan.com/article/Notable+Edibles/1858057/233099/article.html.

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