Maia Market and Restaurant in Villanova

Yay – Excellent food, superb bottled beer selection, and friendly servers and staff.

Meh – Layout, at least at dinner, is somewhat confusing, ‘market’ area needs more variety of items.  Some food items are priced appropriately, while others court the realm of ‘ridiculous Main Line markup’.

Summary - Definitely recommended for the food and beer, although it would be wise to keep an eye on the prices, as the bill tends to go high quickly if you aren’t careful.

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We recently had an opportunity to stop by the Maia Market and Restaurant in Villanova for dinner.  Having previously experienced the talents of chefs Terence Feury (Striped Bass in Philadelphia) and his brother Patrick (Nectar in Berwyn), we were looking forward to seeing what the two would do together on this Main Line collaboration.

Maia occupies two floors, with the first floor dedicated to a grab-and-go gourmet market and bar area and the second floor reserved for tablecloth-and-good silverware fine dining.

When we first walked in, the sense of the space was overwhelming.  We were greeted by the hostess and told her that it was our first time visiting, and we wanted to walk around and check the place out.  We wandered through the first floor, stopping to check out the coffee and pastry bar, and slipped through the bar area to the ‘market’ portion of the restaurant.

The Maia Market consists of display cases containing a number of varieties of charcuterie, pates, and cheeses.  You can see the potential there, but it needs a bit more diversity before it can reach the status of ‘market’.

The overall feel of the market area of Maia evokes a showroom type of atmosphere, with a handful of the very finest ingredients, displayed in quiet reverence behind glass, with a Maia employee behind the counter who is very eager to speak about the goods in the finest detail.  Three loaves of bread, baked on-site, displayed on a shelf, are dusted with flour to exhibit a monogrammed ‘M’.  I can see how one could call this a ‘market’, but it’s a market dedicated to Main Line folks who don’t cook.  Ever.  The kind who spend $50K outfitting a kitchen with the best of everything, but who will never turn a single burner on.

When I think of an upscale market, I tend to think about DiBruno Brothers House of Cheese, or Tallulah’s Table out in Kennett Square.  I like diversity.  I like variety.  I want to be able to pick from dozens of cheeses and other specialty items.  Granted, Maia has a worthy selection of pates (most impressively, a truffle and sweetbread one) and a moderate selection of meats, but as far as cheese goes, they’ve got a cheddar, something from the gruyere category, and a couple of bleu varieties.  Again, it’s a food market for people who don’t cook.  It’s all top quality, but it’s just not that many items.

If there is one shining superiority about Maia Market, though, it is the selection of bottled beers in the cold case.  It is stunningly vast, consisting of local selections such as Victory, somewhat local breweries like Ommegang out of New York, and extending to wonderful imports from around the globe.

Time to talk about the restaurant portion of Maia.  After looking at the menus for upstairs and downstairs, we decided to grab something to eat from the first floor and just sit at a table to enjoy our dinner.  We stood at the spot under the sign that said ‘Order Here’ and watched as servers and other employees rushed past us in all directions.  After a few moments, we thought that we were doing something wrong (ASKING FR FUD – UR DOING IT WRONG) and stopped one of the employees to ask if someone could take our order.  He looked at us in a puzzled sort of manner, and then spoke to someone else, and then said that someone from behind the counter would take care of us.  We waited a bit more without much success before I resorted to going up to the nice girl at the hostess station.

As it turns out, we were doing it wrong.  The ‘Order Here’ sign, and the menu posted next to it, was only for lunch.  If we wanted to eat dinner, we’d have to be seated with menus.  Some of the lunch menu items, such as the burger, are unavailable for dinner.  Others, like the hot pastrami, are available, but at a higher price.  Food-wise, my only complaint about Maia Restaurant is that while most of the dishes are priced appropriately, like $8 for the pate starter and $19 for the steak frites entree, other dishes seem far overpriced for what they are, Main Line notwithstanding.  The pastrami sandwich, officially labeled the ‘House Smoked Snake River Farms Kobe Beef Hot Pastrami Sandwich’, is $14.  A neighboring table ordered it, and I snuck a peek – it looked like a decent hot pastrami, but even with Kobe beef, asking $14 for it is kind of a stretch, especially for an item that doesn’t necessarily reflect an outstanding level of artistic skill on the part of the kitchen.  And I speak from the point of view of someone who’s smoked a lot of barbecue.

We ordered the Maia House Country Pate as a starter, and the Choucroute and Roasted Hangar Steak Frites as entrees.  Enough of my bitching about the confusing layout and inventory of the market -  the food in the restaurant, from our experience, absolutely shines.

The Country Pate ($8) was a nice thick slice of pate served with a frisee salad and mustard.  It tasted as a good pate should, very rich with a good mix of flavors that paired very well with the sharp tang of the mustard.  And, as could be expected, all of this paired nicely with a glass of Ommegang Hennepin.

My Choucroute ($15), consisting of knockwurst, bratwurst, and frankfurter, was not at all what I expected, but in a good way.  Instead of a large platter of sausages, I was presented with a smaller plate, with a small crock of wursts nestled in what I would describe as the very best sauerkraut I have ever tasted.  Next to the crock was a smaller container of whole grain mustard, and next to that were a few poppy seed rolls, split.  I believe the intent was to eat the wursts hot dog style on the rolls, but I went the route of slathering mustard on each bite of wurst and kraut, using the rolls as a palate cleanser.

My wife’s Steak Frites ($19) was a perfect example of what steak frites should be.  The steak was presented, sliced and fanned, with a dash of butter and fries.  Steak frites should not be the most tender thing you’ve eaten – it should have a little bit of chew to it and a lot of flavor, and this describes what we had exactly.

Our server was good, and seemed to enjoy his work, which makes all of the difference between great service and acceptable service.  Plates were cleared promptly, glasses were refilled without asking, and an offer for a second plate of bread was gladly accepted after we had finished the first.  Overall, each of the employees that we met were really good at making eye contact, and seemed content in their tasks.  Good training makes a big difference.

We decided against seeing the dessert menu, because I wanted to grab coffee and croissants from the pastry area.  Unfortunately, when we got there, the pastry selection was a little lacking, and there were no croissants to be found.  We ended up not getting anything else, and instead stopped at Rita’s for custard on the way home.

We picked up a menu for the upstairs dining room, and from what I can see, it looks like the Feury brothers are taking all of their experience with seafood and going all out, which should translate to off-the-charts awesome.  Of the ten entrees on offer that evening, only two weren’t seafood.  The prices are in-line with upscale Main Line dining, and it definitely looks like something that would be on our radar in the future.