Inside a commercial kitchen off North Miami Avenue in midtown, a beefy block of Wagyu brisket brines for six days in a dark brew of brown sugar, honey, black pepper, and mustard seed. Dried and rubbed in white pepper, the brick-like slab of meat is left unwrapped inside a walk-in fridge for about a day. Then comes the cold-smoking, spanning seven hours at a cool 70 degrees. Before it's thinly sliced, it must cook sous vide for another 24 hours, intensifying the smoky flavor.
That's how Mason (3470 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-618-5150; masoneatery.com), which opened in June, makes the meat for its Reuben sandwich, for which paper-fine pieces of crimson-red pastrami, sauerkraut, and a tangy house-made Thousand Island dressing are layered between slices of crisp white bread.
The restaurant, created by Beaker & Gray owner Brian Nasajon, is an antidote to Miami's trite fusion cuisine and over-the-top displays of foie gras. Here, comfort, quality, and convenience come wrapped in a $15 sandwich.
"When I opened Beaker & Gray, Wynwood was craving something creative and sexy," Nasajon says. "But now, Miami desperately needs a restaurant that does comfort food properly."
Midtown had comfort food until the late-night Asian spot Gigi abruptly shuttered in July 2017 after a change in ownership and failure to pay employees. For some time after that, nearby Gaijin Izakaya by Cake, a Japanese-style gastropub, took its place, until it also closed this past spring. Then there was Zak Stern's Wynwood deli, which stopped service in June. Nasajon, like most enthusiastic restaurateurs, is confident Mason will succeed.
"It's diverse," he says. "We're not just a deli. We've got this American-diner feel, and we make food from scratch that tastes good in a really clean place. We appeal to a lot of different people."
Nasajon dreamed of creating a deli long before he debuted Beaker & Gray, which he co-opened with Ben Potts about a half-mile south of Mason in 2016. As a child, he frequented Bagels & Company with his grandfather. After studying philosophy at New York University, Nasajon dropped academia for an unpaid kitchen gig at Josh Capon's Lure Fishbar. He went on to run SushiSamba's two Miami outposts before going solo.
Incorporating Nasajon's Uruguay and Jewish roots, Mason is a 2,500-square-foot, art deco-inspired space where just about everything on the menu, from pretzel-dough knots to maple ham and fish 'n' chips, is meticulously prepared in-house.
Sunshine peeks through floor-to-ceiling windows, producing a sparkle on the kitchen's white tiled walls. Electrical outlets sit beneath most tables and along the bar, encouraging customers to plug in laptops and stay a while. Two doors down in Nasajon's commercial kitchen, many of Mason's highlights, from house-smoked meats to jellies, creams, and breads, are produced.
The menu stays nearly the same all day (a condensed breakfast is served from 10 to 11:30 a.m.). Much of it is heavy on eggs, hash browns, and meat sandwiches. There are some dinner-esque plates, such as steak frites, mussels, and a half chicken.
Pastrami appears across the menu, from the Reuben to a meat board served with challah and chicken liver pâté ($27). Scraps are used in the pastrami hash, in which Yukon Gold potatoes are shredded, cooked, topped with a medium fried egg, and drizzled with house-made garlic aioli ($15). The result is toothsome, with a pleasantly smoky aftertaste.
Other proteins, which can be purchased by the pound or added to the aforementioned charcuterie board, include maple ham, chicken salad, and nova lox ($19 to $27). On a recent visit, the chicken salad was disappointing. Though its appearance and consistency were fine, it lacked flavor.
Mason redeems itself with a spicy fried chicken sandwich. Cooked sous vide with beer vinegar and garlic butter, boneless cuts are enveloped in buttermilk flour and fried until crisp. Nasajon's technique maintains ample juiciness even after sufficient frying ($14).
His bagel bites, inspired by his childhood love for bagels and lox, are made with a pillowy churro dough shaped into small loops and fried ($13). The crisp rings, stuffed with small rolls of cured nova lox and dill cream, produce a melt-in-your-mouth sensation with each chomp.
Larger entrées include mussels with thick chorizo, sweet coconut, and a spike of beer ($16), and beer-battered cod with fries ($17). The most expensive plate is the Wagyu steak frites, which calls for a traditional rib eye and Parmesan fries ($45). Though it tastes good, steakhouse pricing is hard to justify in a diner.
Pastry chef John Maieli, who bakes all of Mason's breads — including croissants, challah, and garlic rolls — in-house, rounds out the menu with sweets and desserts. Buttermilk pancakes are doused in salted-butter-and-maple syrup ($7 to $11), and challah French toast comes dusted with powdered sugar ($10).
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Finish your meal with the cheesecake bar, boasting an Oreo-chocolate base and a raspberry drizzle. Or save room for a jar packed with soft-serve, cookie crumbles, and crushed red velvet cake ($9).
Mason arrives as Miami's deli scene cools after a recent revival. In addition to the closure of Zak the Baker Deli, restaurateur Buzzy Sklar launched Hank & Harry's Deli in Miami Beach and South Miami last year but recently shuttered a grab-and-go location inside Aventura Mall. Kush and Lokal owner Matt Kuscher, who purchased Stephen's Delicatessen in Hialeah in 2017, is in the midst of changing the concept to a deli/speakeasy to better attract customers.
But with Mason, Nasajon has the freedom to flex his culinary muscle while honoring his roots through a kind of cuisine (meat, bread, and potatoes) that's assessable to almost any culture. For now, it looks like Mason is midtown's best bet for a new all-day and late-night haunt.
"We're also bringing back a deli but not letting that completely define us," he says. "All we really are is just approachable. It's that simple."