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Mason and Mug Spices Up Kosher Food

Brooklyn’s newest restaurant puts an artisanal spin on kosher dining

Chavie Lieber
December 02, 2013
Mason and Mug's Itta Werdiger Roth writes the menu on the restaurant's chalkboard.(Chana Blumes)
Mason and Mug's Itta Werdiger Roth writes the menu on the restaurant's chalkboard.(Chana Blumes)

With the recent arrival of several upscale new kosher restaurants in New York City, it’s pretty clear kosher cuisine is getting a facelift. But nothing is quite as unique—or fills so specific a need—as Mason and Mug, the new kosher restaurant that opened in Brooklyn last week.

A few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, nestled between streets of quaint brownstones in Prospect Heights, the dairy small plates restaurant is the first kosher spot in the neighborhood. It features a bar stocked with kosher wine and domestic beers as well as an artisanal grocery section where you can find specialty cheese, boutique mustard, and Shabbat tea lights.

The restaurant is the creation of Itta Werdiger Roth and Sasha Chack, two kosher-keeping Brooklynites who have become well-known in the local kosher food scene. Chack worked as the food and beverage director for 92Y Tribeca for five years, and Werdiger Roth gained wide recognition for her kosher supper club The Hester, which she has hosted in her living room since 2011.

Chack and Werdiger Roth met at one of The Hester’s first events, and Chack soon approached her about starting a permanent kosher restaurant with a similarly casual vibe.

“When Sasha mentioned opening a restaurant, I felt ready at that point to move on from the Hester for personal reasons. It was in my living room and every time we had an event, I’d have to turn my house upside down,” said Werdiger Roth, a 31-year-old mother of two with a third on the way.

In addition, though, Mason and Mug came as a response to the kosher community in Brooklyn, which, judging by the Hester’s success—Werdiger Roth said her events were always completely sold out—was looking for interesting new dining options. Werdiger Roth decided to team up with Chack, and the budding restaurateurs turned to the community for help with fundraising—and received an overwhelming response. They raised more than $24,000 on the crowd-funding platform Indiegogo, enough to get the project off the ground.

As Werdiger Roth roasted wild mushrooms with fresh sage and butter hours before the restaurant’s opening last week, she admitted she missed some of the comforts of working in her own kitchen—the kitchen at Mason and Mug has only one countertop oven, but Werdiger Roth laughed off the minimal prep space and said they’ll make do.

Plus, trading the comforts of hosting at home is a fair pay-off for Mason and Mug’s space. The restaurant’s exposed brick walls are lined with mason jars of pickled treats (one wall is dedicated to a graffiti mural painted by a team from Park Delicatessen), and customers can sit on stools by the bar or lounge at wooden farm tables made by local woodworkers. The bathroom walls feature decoupage vintage National Geographic photos.

“We’re on a shoe-string tight budget, so most of what you see here was done by us or our friends,” Chack said. “It’s labor of love.”

It’s quirky but welcoming, which is exactly what Mason and Mug is going for. “We’re trying to create an atmosphere of quick, affordable, and casual,” Chack explained as he unloaded a delivery of bar stools.

Some of the items on Mason and Mug’s small menu, like the roasted vegetables or spiced chickpeas appetizers, are simple dishes with Werdiger Roth’s characteristic flair. Others are more aligned with global street food, like the classic Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich, which Werdiger Roth makes with tofu, fresh cilantro, cucumber, and fish sauce, or deviled eggs with horseradish and seaweed. The menu will change seasonally—a fresh donut with apple-peppered jam is available now, just for Hanukkah.

Charming aesthetic and delicious food aside, the most striking thing about Mason and Mug is the reasonable pricing: piled-high cheese and fish platters are $14 and $13, and fish tacos are $5.50, and nearly everything else on the menu is pleasantly affordable.

“In the kosher world, good food, it seems, is synonymous with formality,” Werdiger Roth explained. “We’re toning it down with good food that’s not pretentious.”

Chavie Lieber has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, the Times of Israel, and more. Follow her on twitter @chavielieber.

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