Under the Big Top
Jim Poris - May 2008
With so many dining sideshows and whisks to juggle at their just unwrapped Maia in suburban Philly, the brothers Patrick and Terence Feury boot up two kitchens built for volume and finesse.
Maia is big, like 19,000 square feet big. Big enough to make it seem as if an expanse of Las Vegas blew into Philadelphia's well-bred suburban Main Line on a Wizard of Oz tornado and landed on the Snooty Witch of the Raised Pinky. It's not garish or brassy, it's just that there's a lot of fervent culinary activity on its two floors—an espresso/viennoiserie nook, a full-service bar/bistro, a prepared foods market for eat-in or takeout, and a full-on fine dining restaurant with its own bar and in-season outdoor seating. No Cirque de Soleil gymnastics, to be sure, but Maia satisfies all manner of gustatory cravings morning, noon, and night. Odd, then, that something so big is so hard to see.
As Maia neared completion for its unveiling this month, Patrick and Terence Feury--brothers by birth, chefs of considerable talent and taste, and business partners by choice—promised that there would be two signs in front of the fledging mini mall called the Shops at Villanova to alert rubberneckers on main artery Lancaster Avenue that the big building behind the big building houses Maia. And they noted that Maia—and by extension the developmental muscle behind the Villanova project, Rich Caruso and Jerry Holtz of Provco Group, as well as managing partner Scott Morrison—had successfully petitioned for a signal with directional arrows to ease the in and out from the busy road. So even before the Feurys fired up the pizza oven for a christening flammenküche (tarte flambé) with crème fraîche, they were rearranging traffic flow to their benefit.
Patrick Feury already has the Main Line wired with his four year old David Rockwell designed Asian/French Nectar five miles down Lancaster Pike in Berwyn. Precise, meticulous, and technically virtuosic—culinary qualities painstakingly acquired in numerous French kitchens, including a stint as sous chef at Le Cirque 2000 (now Le Cirque)—he built Nectar from the ground up on a roadside site that had seen many restaurant failures. He figures Maia will drain $1 million a year from Nectar, a sum he believes he can make up by delivering sushi from Nectar's Tokyo-quality operation to the three-piece suit corporate enterprises that have bloomed along the Main Line. "Like Nectar, Maia is a destination, not a place to come in for a grab-and-go," says Patrick, 43. "That's why we pushed for an easy access."
Terence Feury, 40, taller and more angular than his robustly built older brother, also brings impeccable culinary breeding to Maia—Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria (NYC), three years at Le Bernardin (NYC), five years running Philadelphia's Striped Bass, and turns as executive chef at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Philadelphia and Georgetown (Washington, D.C.). The Feurys grew up close to the Jersey Shore in Middletown (David Burke/Jasper White/Bill Telepan territory), and their English mother grazed sheep on three acres that stretched across neighbors' yards. "That's why we're going to have English-style meat pies--curry/lamb, pork/Stilton, and beef/kidney—as well as fish and chips and a sirloin burger with our version of HP Sauce in the bistro and in the market downstairs," Terence notes.
That homage to Ye Olde England could make one think that the food at Maia--a female name of Greek origin meaning "great" or "mother," chosen to represent Mother Nature—spills all over the map. Not at all. "We've conceived this as a little box, emphasizing places where the foods have a similar flavor profile—Germany, Alsace, Scandinavia," Patrick says. "And we're keeping it tight, with not a lot of ingredients in play."
Many of those ingredients will be local, as per the ethos of these food times. That means not only seafood from New Jersey but also produce, meats, and cheese from the fertile South Jersey and Pennsylvania Dutch farmland nearby—including a lion's share raised for them by Amish farmers—and fridges full of craft beers from the tri-state region (those lucky aficionados of Delaware Dogfish Head ales!). Even with the narrowed focus, Terence says "there will be lots of choices."
And those choices, as Patrick knows from Nectar, are designed for "a clientele that doesn't cook much, a lot of highly educated people who go out to eat at least three nights a week." As he says, "the beauty of this is that it's for everyone from the kid from Villanova [University] coming in for a five dollar soup to someone stopping by in the morning for a shot of illy espresso, looking around, and deciding to come back later to eat dinner upstairs."
Maia's grand market—with the coffee area, bar/bistro, cafe, and refrigerated displays of food-to-go—takes up 14,000 square feet on the first floor of the duplex complex, accessed from the front parking lot. Studio A Design of New York City gave each area its own look--subway tile mosaics, clear and frosted glass, and a French door in the espresso bar; a brick facade accented by wine barrels and a 38 seat center island bar with four sports blaring TVs in the bistro with 42 more seats distributed between banquettes and chairs; a large common table, condiment kiosk, and bird's-eye view of the open finishing kitchen in the cafe/take-out area. And this is what they'll see: a work station housing a Montague range and two deep fryers and a pizza area where cooks will be dishing out hanger steaks, burgers, king salmon (with a Brussels sprouts salad with pine nuts), the Alsatian flammenküche, and a pizza with chorizo, porcini, and Idiazabal cheese from the gas-fired customized DoughPro integrated two-portal stone oven/grill (with another oven portal accessible from the prep kitchen in the rear). They'll see a soup station--chestnut soup with smoked duck and mushrooms or pumpkin soup with crisped grapes and Scandinavian sweet shrimp--an extensive selection of Nordic/Germanic/Pennsylvania Dutch charcuterie—stuffed veal breast, liverwurst, paprika seasoned beef salami, scrapple, Lebanon bologna, Westphalian ham, three wursts (knockwurst, bratwurst, and frankfurter) served with house-made sauerkraut and smoked bacon, and Kobe beef pastrami—and a fish counter with the brothers' own cured roes, gravlax with dill pancakes, cured striped bass with Meyer lemon jam, cold shrimp, and various herring preparations. And sandwiches, too, served on an assortment of breads--rye, country, dill, pumpernickel, for instance produced by head baker Jim Macalese, formerly of Balthazar Bakery in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Plus, meals-to-go based on Maia's mise-en-place, a bakery, with more breads and the like for takeout, and over 200 beers--regional, English, German, and Belgian—to round out the pub-in-a-bag experience.
All that food—and the aforementioned is just a wee sampling—demands firepower and refrigeration space. So blessed be those with square footage! Behind the scenes are the cooks—the food manipulators—with vast means of production at their disposal. The pastry/baking cooks get a large corner of the prep kitchen, with a dedicated walk-in, granite-topped counters, a Doyon dough mixer, a 30 quart Hobart mixer, a Rationale combi-oven for bread baking, a Montague double-decked convection oven, and a three-door Traulsen freezer, which stands farther away. A Gemini dough sheeter can be wheeled into the space during late night work and removed to open up room for more cooks during peak production periods. On the savory side, a 60-gallon tilting kettle, a 30-gallon braising pan, and one three-gallon steam kettle—all by Groen—two Alto-Shaam cooker/smokers, a Montague six-burner range, and a Rosito-Bisani pasta cooker do the grunt work.
Then there's the protein walk-in as big as a two-car garage. It's size—21 feet deep by 13 feet wide—allows the Feurys to halve the space with a thick plastic curtain so they can use the front as a butchering area for meat and fish. Indeed, it has a sink installed along a wall just for that purpose. It's also here that a Hobart meat chopper, a Blixer 6V processor/blender by Robot Coupe, and an F. Dick sausage stuffer are flipped on to turn meats into charcuterie. Since most of the butchering is completed by noon, with portions dispatched to their appropriate stations, there's very little contact between stored fish and meats, meaning little chance of cross-contamination and mingling of odors. An adjacent walk-in—even bigger at an overall 28-by-12-feet--lends 9 feet of its depth to a walk-in freezer.
And that's Maia, downstairs. There's an upstairs, upscale part of this story, too. Unless taking the stairs leading up from the bistro, guests enter the main restaurant through a door that leads to a rear parking lot that slopes up from the front. A lounge, with the wine barrel theme repeated from the bistro, opens to the left of the entryway; one of two octagonal private rooms is to the right, near the kitchen (the other octagonal room is at the opposite end of the kitchen).
Forty Amish men and teenagers staged an "old-fashioned barn-raising" to finish off Maia's dining room, hauling in the furniture and dusting and wiping the work site that would soon see a display of dishes far surpassing the "fancy" part of their "plain and fancy" farm cuisine. (Some Amish groups permit transport by automobile; Maia's contractors employed Amish carpenters and craftsmen.) What they spiffed up were two rooms. The front one is dominated by a 24 seat communal table made from babinga wood from Cameroon, hollowed and filled along its length with a stainless-steel ice basin that will serve as the diners' wine cooler. Fiber-optic underlighting illuminates four onyx panels of the marble bar, which is inlaid with 500 year old virgin forest white oak recovered in a preserved state from the depths of Lake Superior. Five booths in front of a wall of glassed-in firewood provide additional seating. A step up leads to the back, with walls bedecked with mother-of-pearl. The back-to-reality view of a parking lot and the train tracks that give the Main Line its name is discreetly screened.
Working with Next Step Design of Annapolis, Maryland, on the kitchen, the Feurys first considered what they wanted to cook and then what they needed to produce it. "Also, making up a dream list of equipment is a way of attracting talent to work in the restaurant," says Patrick. "I mean, who wouldn't want to work with what we have here. In the end, we went with mostly Montague because of its firepower and because it's constructed with no seams so it's easy to clean."
And so Montague it is in the upstairs kitchen—ranges, deep fryer, griddle, flattops, charbroiler, salamander, half-size convection oven. The space is neatly divided into a fish prep area, complete with refrigerated fish files, just outside the door of the kitchen. A service elevator descends to the downstairs prep kitchen to transport mise-en-place on four rolling racks that fit neatly into the two two-door Traulsen refrigerators dedicated to appetizers, fish, entremets, and meats/sauces. An appetizer station and a pastry area flank the entrance inside the kitchen, keeping them away from the hot action. The pastry cooks are responsible for making espresso and cappuccino, with the brothers reasoning that "if the waiters don't have to take the time to make them, they can spend more time on the floor selling, which means more sales of pastry."
Before dessert, the Feurys have written a menu that merges the paths they took to Maia--potato crusted Dutch herring with horseradish mousseline, pickled onions, and apples; an alien-looking double shrimp (two head-on shrimp joined at the "hip" by the protein glue Activa TG-RM) with a citrus/shrimp glace and orange dust; and dry-aged Kobe beef strip loin with Kobe beef short ribs, carrot puree, and pistachio oil. Small considerations taken by the Feurys ease life on the line for their cooks: meats subtly coaxed to life via low temperature cooking will rest out of the way in Alto-Shaam cook-and-hold units; sauces are dispensed from thermoses, in which they can be held for two hours before backup is needed; ample undercounter refrigeration, rack and drawer, can hold a great amount of prepped food; bundled electrical cords, the detritus of the ticket printer, are enclosed in the wall out of sight and out of the way; Rubbermaid Slim Jim trash cans slide into a cut-out under the counter and accessed through the countertop.
For all their best-laid plans for Maia, none is better than the prescient decision the Feurys made years ago after graduating from the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, New Jersey. "We started out together at the Waldorf, then consciously went off in different directions, thinking that we needed to acquire as many influences and techniques as we could for when we got back together," Patrick says. "In hindsight, that's one of the best things we could have done. Each dish at Maia has some of me and some of Terence. It's almost impossible for two chefs showing their different influences to collaborate on a cohesive dish, let alone as many dishes as we have here. Unless, of course, they are brothers."
Blender Hamilton Beach
Blixer Robot Coupe
Braising pan Groen
Coffee brewer Fetco
Convection ovens Montague
Custom grill oven DoughPro
Dough divider Dutchess Bakers
Dough mixer Doyon
Dough sheeter Gemini
Espresso grinder Rosito-Bisani
Espresso maker Rosito-Bisani
Food slicers Berkel, Hobart
Food warmer Alto-Shaam
Ice machine Hoshizaki
Meat chopper Hobart
Pasta cooker Rosito-Bisani
Receiving scale Hobart
Roll-in refrigerator Traulsen
Sausage stuffer F. Dick
Sorbet whipper Pacojet
Steam kettle Groen
Tilting kettle Groen
Warming cabinet Alto-Shaam
Wine refrigerator True Manufacturing