Inside what looks like an unassuming home with a picnic table on the front lawn, three chefs work to pull together gourmet biscuits.
Mason Dixie Biscuit Company, a new restaurant venture working out of the communal kitchen EatsPlace in Petworth, is making a name for itself with the simple southern favorite.
And while the chefs and the restaurant’s chief executive officer, alumna Ayeshah Abuelhiga, come from a variety of culinary backgrounds, they’re united in dishing out warm southern comfort to D.C. foodies.
Abuelhiga’s business partner, managing chef Mo Cherry, said it wasn’t until the pair went on a trip to San Francisco and ate an adobe egg-and-lamb breakfast sandwich that they thought about a future in biscuit making.
“We saw this stand that sold just biscuits and we thought, ‘Hey, biscuits and that lamb together would be absolutely amazing,’” Cherry said.
Abuelhiga launched a Kickstarter to get Mason Dixie off the ground, raising $28,035 – about $1,000 over the original goal.
The fledgling company opened shop about a month ago at EatsPlace, a “food incubator and pop-uppery” that sponsors new restaurants and temporarily provides them with a work space while they test their products.
“It’s not easy to find talented people willing to show up and take a gamble, but with our Kickstarter campaign and opening at EatsPlace, we work and build our relations on trust,” Abuelhiga said. “When we launched Kickstarter we got not just money to start up with, but a lot of amazing stories – stories about family and grandparents and the food they ate at home.”
Abuelhiga, whose family is Korean and Palestinian, said her interest in cooking came from family meals. Her years at the University, when she worked in restaurants that she said kept her “outside of the GW bubble,” also prepped her for restaurant work.
“D.C. is a melting pot of southern culture that recently has gone through a health food craze and ethnic food craze,” Abuelhiga said. “What MDBC is trying to do is return to the basics and return to home for a lot of people who’ve relocated here.”
The biscuit with spread and jam is a cheap breakfast treat: $4.50 will get customers a standard biscuit – large, piping hot and buttery – accompanied by a spread and jam. Don’t expect plain butter or pre-packaged jelly: Toppings include creamy goat cheese butter, honey hazel butter and plum jam infused with Earl Grey breakfast tea.
Meat gravy drips over the flaky biscuits topped with fried eggs and chives. The speciality sandwich – fried chicken on a biscuit ($8) – also serves as comfort food.
Cherry said he never had formal culinary training, but attributes his skills to practice: He began making dinner for himself when he wasn’t yet tall enough to reach the stove or counter by standing on a box.
He said he was excited about the building’s convenient location next to the Petworth Metro station, where diners who want to grab a quick bite before work or during lunch can “pop in really quickly and grab and go.”
Mason Dixie shares EatsPlace’s communal kitchen space with D.C. Born and Raised, a restaurant that specializes in locally-grown dishes. Since D.C. Born and Raised works in the kitchen nights and weekends, Mason Dixie’s hours are limited to mornings and afternoons.
While Mason Dixie works out of its George Avenue location, Abuelhiga is already looking to move to a locale closer to the Foggy Bottom Campus.
“GW is very near and dear to my heart,” Abuelhiga said. “And so I can tell you that right now we’re looking in the Foggy Bottom area at spaces for a restaurant of our own.”