Food critic

The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.


The Classic Fried Chicken sandwich at Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. features chicken thigh, Benton’s bacon, honey and hot sauce. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Don’t overlook the shakes on the menu, which include strawberry with whipped cream and sprinkles. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Mason Dixie Biscuit Company

(Good/Excellent)

The great unifiers in Washington turn out to be chicken and biscuits. If that sounds like a stretch, do your soul a favor and drop by this Southern charmer, which launched as a pop-up a few years back and became a permanent attraction in April. More than any (good) eating establishment I know, Mason Dixie draws an all-too-rare rainbow coalition of constituents. Black and white, old and young, straight and gay, customers line up for fast food made with real thought: organic chicken fried to a lovely crisp, biscuits baked to be both substantial and fluffy, side dishes good enough to star on their own. First among equals is the fried chicken sandwich hit with heat and honey and bacon (Benton’s, natch). Mason Dixie has suitors across the DMV and beyond. The owners are aiming for a second branch downtown. I say, go forth and multiply.

2.5 stars

Mason Dixie Biscuit Company: 2301 Bladensburg Rd. NE. 202-849-3518. masondixiebiscuits.
com
.

Prices: Breakfast and lunch $6-$14.

Sound check: 76 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.

Previous: Maketto | Next: Masseria

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The following review was originally published Sept. 8, 2017.

At Mason Dixie Biscuit Co., a southern recipe that brings folks together

Entrepreneur Ayeshah Abuelhiga was looking for someone to help her finesse a southern fast-casual idea. Pastry chef Jason Gehring was itching for a new challenge. Over dinner four years ago, the friends and native Marylanders decided to do business together.

Beginning in 2014, they raised funds via Kickstarter and auditioned their act around Washington at a series of pop-ups, the first of which, at Dolcezza Gelato Factory & Coffee Lab in Union Market, proved a little too successful: Food expected to last through the weekend was gone in less than a day.

Finding a fixed address took a few years, but April supplied a permanent roost. Occupying a onetime Wendy’s in Northeast Washington, Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. dares you not to drop by. If the cheery, window-wrapped beacon on the block doesn’t draw you in, the aroma of fried chicken drifting across the parking lot (there’s a parking lot!) surely will.

Customers decide what they want by reading the list behind the counter then wait to hear their names called. With luck, there might be an empty table, although I wouldn’t count on one after church gets out on Sunday. The dining area seats a mere 32 people.


Executive chef Jason Gehring teamed up with entrepreneur Ayeshah Abuelhiga to hatch the idea for Mason Dixie. In 2014, they used a Kickstarter campaign to fund pop-ups that eventually spawned their bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Northeast Washington. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Gehring’s menu is small, focused — and mighty fine. Mornings find me inhaling a golden biscuit packed with spicy sausage, lacy egg and not-quite-melted cheese, a guilty pleasure I correct with a fruit cup notable for how much of the season it holds. Afternoons present a challenge: a box of a fried chicken quarter with tender biscuits and a choice of two sides, or a crunchy chicken sandwich that’s by turns sassy with hot sauce and sweet thanks to honey. Against my better waistline, I might order both and wash the lot back with a fresh-tasting strawberry milkshake. The creamy treat, pretty with sprinkles and served with fat straws, is hand-spun, hence the whirring noise that occasionally competes with old-school funk or a young Michael Jackson.

While the chef guards his recipes as closely as the Colonel, Gehring shares that the chicken is organic and gets a bath in buttermilk and a hit of cayenne before being plunged into the fryer. Whatever the complete secret, the pieces emerge crisp, juicy — leaders of the flock.

The crew behind the counter is of the sort you wish you encountered more often at similar price points. “Can I explain anything?” a clerk asks. “Good call!” he responds when I choose corn salad dressed with cilantro vinaigrette as one of my sides. “Would you like anything else with your order: hot sauce, honey, ice water?” he wants to know when I pick it up. His colleagues are quick to clean tables and tidy up, ensuring diners a comfortable, as well as delicious, stay.


The fried chicken box with a biscuit and two sides, such as corn salad and collard greens — which happen to be vegetarian. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Or not: Mason Dixie also features a drive-through (Tuesday through Friday only) and makes deliveries (via Caviar).

Everything that crosses your lips shows care and attention. The sausage is Logan’s, the bacon is Benton’s, the coffee is Confluence and the biscuits manage the neat trick of being both sturdy and light. Vegetarians can enjoy the collard greens, among other dishes, which rely on pepper and vinegar — but no meat — for their flavor. Gehring, 39, previously worked at the late Table, but his earlier time at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken was probably his best preparation for Mason Dixie.

Finessed fast food and better-than-Popeye’s service aren’t the only attractions. Look around and you’ll see something rare and wonderful: black, white, old, young, straight, gay — possibly the most diverse eating establishment in Washington. If anyone needs proof that food can unite us, Mason Dixie is Exhibit A.

Faults are hard to find, but if I could change one thing, it would be the hours. For now at least, Mason Dixie is open only for breakfast and lunch.