I’m all for indulgence. And old-school country cooking is just that in my book — something my arteries can’t necessarily sustain on a daily basis. But when the hankering strikes, I’ll happily foray into the deeply sentimental and satisfying Bible Belt of buttermilk fried chicken, fried bologna sandwiches, and crispy pork rinds.
As a kid, I remember standing in line at the elementary school lunch counter watching the hair-netted ladies serve up “country-fried steak,” and puzzling over its definition, yet it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that it was smothered in dark brown gravy and onions, and it tasted great. The Mason Jar proudly embraces such Southern classics.
Located across from Timbo’s boiled peanut trailer in a nondescript cluster of local businesses scattered like buckshot on either side of Highway 61, The Mason Jar purports to “preserve Lowcountry tradition.” And that it does, by the plenty: catfish stew, fried pickles, pulled pork, hash and rice, butter beans, mac and cheese, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese, hamburger steaks, hush puppies, and all good things that bring out the inner Southerner even in non-Southerners.
My son and I went to Magnolia Plantation last week to feed the deer (an abrupt departure from what Southerners usually do to deer this time of year) and swung by The Mason Jar for dinner. We picked a roomy, tall booth and ran our hands over a slick pale-blue vinyl tablecloth adorned with a vintage mason jar centerpiece. The radio station alternated between Christmas classics and contemporary country tunes. Crackling sounds of food hitting the fryer echoed through the kitchen door, overlaid with Elvis’ soulful “Blue Christmas.” The friendly waitress placed a small mason jar of wine in front of me, and suddenly all was right in the universe. Alcoholic beverages may be limited here, but folks don’t come to this West Ashley restaurant for the wine list. A smattering of wines, domestic beers, and even champagne suffices.
The crab cake appetizer ($9.50) could have been my meal. Two crab cakes, each the size of my head, packed with moist, lump crab meat and chunks of green pepper, perfectly paired with a zesty remoulade flecked with paprika filled my plate. My son did his best (short on a few teeth) to crack into some giant house-made fried pork skins ($2.99), salty, crunchy explosions of goodness that were still warm from the fryer. Meanwhile, the crispy little poppers of lightly battered deep fried okra ($7.99) arrived piping hot.
If you’re hungry, really hungry, try The Hog Dog ($7.99). The menu description may sound daunting (a hot dog with crumbled bacon, covered in pulled pork, and topped with slaw), but think of it as a bunch of sides that will party together in your stomach anyway and just go for it. Take a big old bite. The result? Surprisingly sublime. The sweet crunch of fresh cole slaw counters the soft, smoky pulled pork and other unctuous piggy derivatives, all cushioned in a bun.
The Mason Jar is the brainchild of local caterer Charles Lee and his stepdaughter Laura Black. Lee first launched Fatboy’s Lowcountry Cooking & Catering, specializing in steaming burlap-covered oyster roasts and pig pickings. He then opened Fatboy’s Boiled Peanuts, the stand that brings many of us to a screeching halt on Folly Road just past Crosby’s in summertime. His mother was a caterer, and so food has been always been at the heart of this family. Many of those perfected family recipes found their way here. And word has it that if there’s a particular dish you’ve been craving from your childhood, just ask for it. It might appear as next week’s blue-plate special. That’s what happened with the chicken livers requested by one customer and the fried pork chops requested by another.
The skinny on The Mason Jar is that you can’t go hungry in this establishment. The burgers are huge, and entrées like the black pepper-flecked Buttermilk Fried Chicken Platter ($10.99) or ample pile of pulled pork BBQ Platter ($8.99) come with your choice of two sides, plus cornbread muffins or hot golden hush puppies gussied up with corn kernels and green bell pepper. Dark green, freshly ripped collard leaves are cooked into submission with a mild kick of vinegar. The mac and cheese is buttery without being greasy. White rice and thick brown gravy are just as you’d expect from an old-school Southern diner. Thinly sliced yellow squash and zucchini, “squash ‘n zukes,” come lightly battered and flash fried, the crispy exterior encasing the hot, fresh veggie within.
It’s no wonder that crowds flock here for the Thursday night AYCE (“All You Can Eat”) weekly BBQ buffet and for the every-other-Friday-night seafood buffet. Personally, the standard entrées alone turned out to be all I could eat, and then some. I’m enjoying Crab Cakes Part 2 as I write this. We didn’t even have room to try the homemade red velvet cake, Mississippi mud pie, or brownies that tempted us at the checkout counter, all the reason for another trek out this way the next time I’m craving some Southern comfort.