Dining out should be a pleasure and something special, believes Chris Posner. As chef and one of the three owners of Hannah & Mason's restaurant at 39 North Main Street in Cranbury, he works hard to ensure that customers have a memorable dining experience.
"When people go out to eat, they want to splurge and enjoy themselves," he says. "They're not thinking about their diets; they nearly always have dessert and bring a bottle of wine. They want to have a special time."
After having been chef at the restaurant, which was formerly known as the Corner Cafe, for three years, Mr. Posner and his brother John Posner, and Brian Kelly purchased Hannah & Mason's last summer.
Chris and John Posner grew up in the restaurant business, he recalls. "My grandfather had restaurants in New York, including Italian, Spanish, and a steak house. My father worked there, too, and we spent a lot of time there. I had my first job as a cook when I was 15, and I worked on and off in the kitchen, putting myself through college, before I went to the Culinary Institute of America."
A native of Fort Lee, Mr. Posner worked in the restaurant business in Florida, Hightstown, and Princeton during his 18 years as a professional chef.
One of his pleasures now is that he can create his own recipes and bring his signature style to Hannah & Mason's. "We offer cuisine featuring a combination of American and French influences," he explains. "I look forward to coming in every day and am excited about what I can create. I am happy that our customers are willing to explore and try new things."
Except for certain customer favorites, several items on the menu are changed every week. "We have the best baked French onion soup, with garlic croutons, Swiss and Provolone cheeses," he reports. "That, and our specialties of filet mignon and almond-encrusted rack of lamb, are never off the menu."
Salmon is also always available, and other seafood dishes, such as H & M crab cake tower, are very popular.
A vegetarian dish is always offered, and one of the most popular is the grilled portabello steak -- marinated portabello mushroom, layered with grilled eggplant, zucchini, and squash, topped with tomato and grilled fennel.
Customers nearly always opt for an appetizer, says Mr. Posner. A big customer favorite is the roasted Vidalia onion, stuffed with mushroom, spinach, roasted peppers, garlic, and herbs, finished with Parmesan cheese, and balsamic reduction.
"Salads are also very popular," he adds, "and we have our own Caesar-style, with hand-torn Romaine lettuce, tossed with our Caesar dressing, red onion, apple wood bacon lardons, and garlic croutons."
Presentation is very important, too, and he makes sure that dishes are appealing to the eye, as well as to the palate.
Lunches, which are served Monday through Friday, include soup, sandwiches, panninis, salads, and hamburgers, as well as some entrees.
Desserts are also highlighted at Hannah & Mason's. Creme brulee, sometimes with a twist, is a favorite, reports Mr. Posner. "I like to change it a bit. For example, this week it's pumpkin crème brûlée. Other times, it will be chocolate chip. We also have a very popular little individual apple pie, and a chocolate torte."
Catering is very important, and now comprises 50 percent of the business, he adds. "We put the 'cater' back in catering. Each party and event is customized to the client. We do a lot of corporate catering, as well as social and private parties. We do private parties for 12 people and corporate functions for 200. We can handle any size."
The restaurant is also available for private parties. Hannah & Mason's three dining rooms can accommodate 60 people, and private groups are often seated in the upstairs dining room.
The restaurant offers a charming setting. The building, once a residence, dates to 1876, and is perfect in the rustic Cranbury locale. The dining rooms, with fresh linens and burgundy and white decor, invite customers to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner. Its ambiance has prompted The Artful Diner to name it one of the top 10 romantic restaurants, says Mr. Posner.
In addition, he is proud that reviews in The New York Times and major newspapers in central New Jersey have been very favorable.
Customer satisfaction is a priority at Hannah & Mason's, he emphasizes. "I am often out in the dining room with the customers, and every customer receives a complimentary amusé, a little appetizer just to welcome them.
"I think we are set apart by this. It's partly the friendly food, and partly the warm atmosphere that has given us such a good reputation. Our food is upscale and high quality, but not so confusing that you don't know what you're eating. We come across as unpretentious. Also, our staff is very experienced and have been in the restaurant business a long time."
Contributing to the community is another aspect of what he sees as Hannah & Mason's focus and his own. "We do a lot of charity work, including helping with the March of Dimes and breast cancer events. I believe in balance. Balancing my work and my family. Balance is important in my flavors and in my life."
Customers, who come from Princeton and the area, are in for a treat, he adds. "I look forward to welcoming them to our restaurant and to a wonderful meal."
Hannah & Mason's is open for lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner Friday and Saturday 5 to 10. Closed Sunday, except for private parties. Reservations recommended. (609) 655-3220.
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