There used to be a time when the first thing that sprang to my mind when craving a delicious, restaurant-prepared meal was a trip to the big city. Well, no more. Mason, Ohio, located just about 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati in the heart of Warren County, is home to a wealth of great dining options, each serving up a little something different. From classic Italian to good old-fashioned comfort food, you’re sure to find your fill in Mason.
If you have had a chance to read any of my previous blog posts, you may remember just how crazy I went over Mason’s Wildflower Café. Boasting an over-the-top menu prepared with only the freshest of ingredients, this charming little house-turned-restaurant was farm-to-table long before the whole organic, farm-to-table movement became cool. Even its bread is baked locally by a small, family-owned bakery. Among my favorite dishes on the Wildflower menu are the truffled mushroom fonduta, the Wildflower salad, and the grass-fed burger, but after reviewing the menu again recently, I’m thinking a return trip for their chicken and waffles may be in order.
Another must-stop spot in Mason is Banana Leaf Modern Thai–one of the best Thai food restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of visiting in the Midwest. While they do offer a number of traditional Thai dishes, they also mix it up, offering items like the King Cobra–an appetizer of hot peppers, shrimp, pine nuts, toasted coconut, chopped limes, ginger paste, lemongrass, chopped ginger and red onion with Belgian endive leaves (think “build-your-own” lettuce wraps). Their Diva Sea Bass with Chili Sweet Sauce and Thai Grilled Beef with a side of Grilled Baby Bok Choy are also fabulous.
Another of my favorites, Phoenician Taverna is one of the best Lebanese/Mediterrean restaurants around. A must-try is the Shankleesh, comprised of feta cheese, spices, herbs, onions, tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil served with fresh, piping hot pita bread. I also love their Chicken Shawarma, which is vertical rotisserie meat served with garlic whip (a Yelp favorite).
Troy’s Café, a casual little place with great fresh salads, gourmet burgers, and unique and delicious sandwiches, is perfect for those who want to go casual, but don’t want to sacrifice taste. It’s not too terribly expensive either and–again–its freshness factor cannot go unnoticed.
I would be remiss if I talked about Mason’s dining scene without mentioning Quatman’s, a real gem of a place right in heart of the Mason’s downtown area. Talk about comfort food–burgers that rival the very best, corned beef, ham and cheese, and grilled chicken sandwiches are all go-to favorites. Their chili is killer as well, and other soups like their Famous Mock Turtle Soup are great for warming up on a cool winter day. With very reasonable prices, you can easily feed a family without breaking the bank. I have a friend who goes there upwards of 20 times a year, in fact, and says it’s her absolute favorite place in the world.
Finally, Pitrelli’s Italian Ristorante is one of my most recently discovered Mason gems. For the sake of rambling on and on about everything from its owners, to its pasta, to its service, to its limoncello, I will just hit the highlights. The owners were possibly the friendliest, warmest couple I have ever met in any restaurant. The menu was extensive, offering any number of authentic and made-in-house dishes (I got the special of smoked chicken and our table got spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna), and the tiramasu and limoncello were made locally by a friend of the owners. As we leaned back at our table in post-meal bliss, the owner even sat down for a glass of wine with us, making certain that everything was satisfactory. Now, that’s service.
Dining out is all about bonding, relaxing, and sharing good stories around great food, and–to put it simply–Mason does it right.