Family friendly establishment serves up down-home cooking and charm
The Mason Jar of Umatilla, Fla., is located at 37534 State Road 19. For more information, call (352) 589-2535.
Just like any quaint Southern community, the sleepy City of Umatilla features a restaurant where the menu is reminiscent of momma’s cooking.
From the thick, juicy slice of meatloaf to the crispy piece of fried chicken, every down-home dish served at The Mason Jar is a country delicacy. Latrell Key and sister Paula Gregg opened The Mason Jar in September 1980 with the hopes of filling the diner deficiency in town.
“We chose a home-cooking menu because it was all we knew,” Key said. “My mother was a good cook, and I just stuck with what I knew.”
The Southern-inspired cuisine draws hungry appetites to this country kitchen, but its reasonable prices is an equally attractive feature. Daily specials frequently offer one main dish and two sides for about $5, which makes The Mason Jar a perfect place for a road weary family to enjoy a home-cooked meal.
“While I think the home cooking helps [with the restaurant’s success], the food is consistently good and economical and that has a certain draw to individuals on fixed incomes,” Key said.
Key has stepped back from the operation of the restaurant, but her vision remains intact thanks to her daughter, Keri Greer, and son, Byron Key. Another son, Glen Key, operates the nearby QuarterDeck seafood and steak restaurant in downtown Umatilla. Amazingly The Mason Jar’s menu has changed very little since its inception with Key’s family recipes withstanding the test of time.
“We’ve changed the menu very little,” Key said. “Maybe a few salads here and there, but on the whole the menu has pretty much remained the same.”
Beside the scrumptious made-from-scratch Southern vittles, such as the biscuits and sausage gravy, the friendly atmosphere of the restaurant is a favorable trait.
“I like dealing with people and you get your share of it here,” Key said. “I felt like a bartender sometimes, but I like the one on one with the customer.”
From day one the family worked hard at the business, but it was almost like a social time for them. To this day, wait staff still remembers its regular customers often waiting with their preferred drink at their usual table before the customer walks from the parking lot through the front door.
“They know the history of our customers,” Key said. “We even have one waitress who takes food sometimes [to a customer] in the nursing home.”
Even if you’re not a regular patron, The Mason Jar is a fascinating establishment just to overhear the local gossip. The famed “Table 13,” which is a long and noticeably worn dining table near the restaurant’s entrance, is a frequent stop for community movers and shakers to conduct business.
One last word of advice: remember the early bird gets the worm during breakfast time at The Mason Jar.
“Sometimes they wait a long time, but they say it’s worth the wait,” Key said.