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Feb 19, 2008 06:44 AM

Hannah & Mason's, Cranbury, NJ: Kitchen Nightmares Comes To Town


So Gordon Ramsay was in Cranbury, NJ filming an episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" at Hannah & Mason's. For those that don't know, Hannah & Mason's is a high-end french-influenced new American place. They have been only open a couple of nights a week for dinner, and I believe business has been a little slow for them. We have dined here a few times, and have had the impression that the place was nice, with decent food, but not worth the prices they charge. Our dinner this time was different, to say the least.

We had a reservation for Friday Night which turned out to be the night before the restaurant relaunch. I ordered Chicken Saltimbocca and my wife ordered a Pork Medallion dish (a special). My chicken was awful. It was a huge breast, and it wasn't pounded thin, so the meat itself was a little dry and rather tasteless. Two shrimp were perched on top along with some Tarragon (!!!) prosciutto, and cheese, and it was dressed in a tangy lemon sauce. I don't know if was a mistake or what, but the tarragon fought with the other flavors to the point that the dish was barely edible. Classic Saltimbocca is made with sage... tarragon just doesn't work.

On the other hand, the pork dish was divine. The medallions were very tender, and dressed with a simple mellow mustard sauce. It was served with extremely buttery mashed potatoes and crisp green beans. This dish was harmonious and delicious, and, as it turns out, was Gordon Ramsay's special that night.

I won't go into details on the starter & dessert, but they were nothing special.

H&M's used to charge high-end fine-dining prices, but the service and food really didn't warrant it. When our main courses came, there was a "plate auction" (Who ordered the pork?), silverware wasn't replaced, etc.

On Saturday, they threw a "Farmer's Market" on Main St. to relaunch the newly-redecorated restaurant with a new, simplified menu with a "Farm-Fresh" concept. The new menu's most expensive item is the same price as the cheapest main dish on the old menu. The new menu is divided into sections such as Lighter Plates (Fontina, Asparagus & Green Onion Quiche, Ribeye Roast Beef Sandwich, Cured Salmon Platter, etc.), Soups (Roasted Carrot & Ginger, others), Salads (Caesar, Harvest, Cobb, Greek), and Entrees (Free Range Chicken Stew, Lamb Burger, Braised Short Ribs, Salmon and Crab Cakes, etc.)

I spoke with one of the owners that day, and he said they would now be open every night. However, when we came by on Monday for dinner, they were closed. (Maybe they needed a day off after the filming?) I hope they keep up with the changes... The changes make sense and will attract people to come to this restaurant regularly, not just for special occasions.

As for the experience of dining on camera for the TV show, it was interesting. When each course was served to us, a camera, sound man, and producer came over to our table. The camera was only a foot or so away from our faces, and the producer asked us questions, "How's the sauce?", "What do you think of dish?". My wife (a chef) was quite eloquent, while all I could get out was a few words. It was definitely a fun experience. I was very impressed when Ramsay made a few passes through the dining room to check on things, even though the cameras were not around when he did it. He seemed genuinely interested in what was going on and how people were enjoying their meals... it was definitely not a "show". We did get to talk to him a bit on Saturday, and he seems to be a very nice guy, despite his on-screen persona.

The Farmer's Market they did was a blast. Most of the town was out for it, and it featured some local purveyors like Terhune's Orchards, Hendrick's Farms & Dairy, a Pickle Maker, and others. Everyone was happily nibbling and enjoying the nice weather.

I hope H&M's does very well as a result of this. They are very nice people, and their heart is definitely in it.

  1. This is too freaky! Ever since we started watching the original Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America, we have been saying that Hannah & Mason's would be the perfect candidate for this show. It has all the elements - terrible hours of operation, overpriced and underwhelming menu, rickety ramshackle building, chef owners who have been trying to (quietly) sell the business for almost as long as they have owned it...the list goes on and on.

    In fact, we considered purchasing the building and business about 3 years ago, but were so appalled by the overall state of it, we didn't even submit an offer. To be honest, after seeing the condition of the kitchen and basement storage areas, I swore to never set foot in there again, let alone eat a meal there.

    I usually drive through Cranbuy a few times a week - what are the chances that the one weekend I'm away I completely missed all the filming? Any idea when the episode will be aired? Are the current owners the chefs who bought the business from the original owner or did a new group take over?

    18 Replies
    1. re: punkin712

      The show crew said it would be aired either this summer or in September. They were actually filming all week (Mon-Sat), not just on the weekend.

      H&M's was first opened by John Davidson (owner) and Chris Posner (chef) several years ago. John sold his stake in the business to Chris and his family a few years ago and moved away. Chris is still the chef and he and his family are still the owners.

        1. re: cranrob

          Thought I might check in with some corrections...

          First of all, Chris's family has no stake in the business other than the fact that it's Chris' source of income. His family does not manage, serve, prep, or do anything else with the business other than support it. He does, however have a partner in the business, Brian Kelly who is also an executive Chef.

          Secondly, no owner or even manager would have told anyone at the Farmers Market that the restaurant would be open 5 days a week for dinner. They wouldn't have said so because that hasn't even been discussed yet.

          Third, Chris and Brian are not now, nor have they ever been actively trying to sell the business. Ever. The rumor in town can be laid to rest. it's not true.

          Oh and the Pork special was run the whole weekend and it was Chris's special, not Chef Ramsay's.


          1. re: shakenbake6

            When we looked into buying the business and real estate, we met with Phyllis Davidson. She said her son John had just moved to Florida and that she wanted to completely cut her ties with the restaurant. Even after Chris and Brian were announced as the new restaurant owners, Phyllis' agent told us they were just "temporary owners" and wanted to sell.

            Since then, I have seen several listings for the building and business. Perhaps Phyllis thinks she will get a better response for the real estate if potential buyers think the restaurant is included in the sale. If Chris and Brian aren't selling (based on Chris' post below, it's difficult to tell), they may need to have a discussion with Phyllis about how she is marketing the building.

            1. re: shakenbake6

              Chris and shakenbake6, I'm interested to know what changes you plan on making as a result of the show, and what you're going to keep the same. I, and other Cranburians that I've talked to, would love to have a great local restaurant that I can go to on a regular basis, and with the menu we received on Saturday, H&M's looks just like that sort of place.

              And honestly, the guy that told me you would be open every night (I don't know his name) is someone who I see in your restaurant every time I go, and he said he was one of the owners. Also, we asked our waitress if the pork special was a Ramsay dish, and she said it was.

              1. re: cranrob

                I spoke to a "guy" as well and he also told us H&M would be open every night. We are actually looking forward to having another dinner available nightly in town.

                Now we just need Chef Ramsay to come back and re-do the Cranbury Inn!

                1. re: SteakandWine

                  Well thats absolutely noted. Something that is absolutely being kicked around now that the menu and restaurant have gone through some changes :)

                  If the restaurant does decide to open up 5 days a week for dinner we'll definately make it known loudly Cranbury.

                  As for the pork, I only persist because Chris should get his credit. It was his, the waitress was misunderstood.

                  Chris and Brian are NOT selling. The building is for sale, the restaurant comes with the building.

                  1. re: shakenbake6

                    Good news, and we're looking forward to a great dinner this weekend at H&M's.

                2. re: cranrob


                  Being that it is only 2-3 days removed from the KN escapades, it is difficult to say what changes we are going to make at this point, but there will definitly be some changes. I don't understand how someone told you that we are going to be open every night, we have not even discussed that yet. Several things need to happen in order to open more nights a week, it can not happen instantaneously.

                  As far as the pork dish- the pork dish was Chef Ramsay's and we sold 3 that evening. The Swordfish special was Chef Chris' and we sold 10.

                  Our biggest problem was handling all the menus that we had to keep up with. We had a different menu for lunch, thursday nights, and friday/saturday nights. With such small space it is nearly impossible to keep up with all those menus... hopefully our changes will include coming up with a 'universal' menu that can fit everyones needs whether it be lunch, dinner, thursday, friday.. anytime.

                  Price points are are going to be another change. I was always under the influence that we were not an expensive restaurant, we always keep a consistent food cost, the problem is that the product is often expensive. (Lamb/Filet/Duck)

                  As far as the service goes, the average age of our servers is 20, so that it always a work in progress. I know it needs improvement and I take responsibility for that, we are constantly trying to improve.

                  1. re: diner488

                    diner488 (whoever you are), Thank you. I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been for you guys last week. Hang in there... I'm really excited about the future of H&M's.

                    1. re: diner488

                      "As far as the service goes, the average age of our servers is 20, so that it always a work in progress. I know it needs improvement and I take responsibility for that, we are constantly trying to improve"
                      I don't know what the service was like back in Feb, but based on my unfortunate dining experience of the other day(My review is below), I'm sorry to say whatever steps have been taken haven't worked. The existing staff (at least the two servers with whom we dealt) needs to be replaced. Not because they are not good at what they do (Although they're not) but more becuase, it's impossible to train someone to be service oriented, when they don't care. (Which they don't) Additionally, someone should tell the guy in shorts, eating something from a cup/bowl, who kept wandering back and forth between the kitchen area and the dining room, that he should sit down and eat or stay in the kitchen..

                  2. re: shakenbake6

                    Oh and the Pork special was run the whole weekend and it was Chris's special, not Chef Ramsay's.

                    I find this statement unbelievable.....considering the comments below about "the great Chef Ramsey's" special sold only three total....with one being returned for a net two total.

                    Also, it was Ramsey who went to the farm...and there seemed like little interest by both owners when the apples were brought brought in in the morning.

                3. re: punkin712

                  Sorry you feel this way...and while I have no intention of selling my business, (especially after the banner year I just had) everything is for sale, so no need to keep things "quiet".
                  Chef Chris

                  1. re: hannahmasons

                    Interesting comment...if you truly just had a "banner year", what was the need for Gordon Ramsay? His services are usually reserved for restaurants and business owners who aren't doing well at all. What was it that prompted you to engage him and the show?

                    1. re: hannahmasons

                      You "have no intention of selling" but "everything is for sale"?

                      Um, what?

                      1. re: Suzy Q

                        Think this was just a joke.

                        Doesn't everything have a price it you offer high enough?

                    2. re: punkin712

                      Punkin, get your facts straight.. the landlord has been trying to sell the building, the "business" has never been up for sale.

                      1. re: hannahmasons

                        Well, I can tell you for sure that Phyllis was marketing the building and business for sale when we looked at the property a few years ago.

                        As I said before, her agent (Ted Skopas) told us that Phyllis' son had sold the business to the chef, but that the chef's ownership was temporary. He went on and on about how the Davidsons wanted to cut their ties with it and move on. He also mentioned that the restaurant only had a 1-year lease so the new property owner would be able to decline the 5-year renewal option and do whatever they wanted with it.

                        Although we didn't pursue the property, I have seen listings since then that indicate "business and real estate" are part of the sale. Either the listings were never updated or, as I stated before, perhaps Phyllis or her agent felt it would give them a better response.

                        I can only relay the information I was given by the property owner and her agent - pretty reliable sources, or so one would think.

                    3. Were they there this past Friday (15th)? I was driving by and saw cameras outside and thought it was commercial for PNC bank across the way.

                      1. The original comment has been removed
                        1. Hmm. There's confusion on what nights the restaurant will be open, confusion on which chef is responsible for one of the specials, and confusion on whether or not the place was/is for sale. Let's hope for the sake of the business that the owners find some clarity soon.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Suzy Q

                            There is no confusion

                            In the future we will open more nights a week-- it can not happen immediately, we are understaffed. Chef Ramsay had the pork special (which sold 3), Chris' special was the Swordfish. (which sold 10)

                            The building is for sale, "Hannah&Mason's" is not for sale. Whomever wants to buy the building buys the restaurant as well. So, H&M is not going anywhere anytime soon.

                            1. re: diner488

                              All these posts from people who seem to be involved in the restaurant do not seem to be very happy about the show and its results. Is that true? Sounds to me like they wished the had never done it. Does it really matter how much of each special was sold?

                              1. re: charlottecooks

                                I agree. It sounds like a train wreck. It seems comical to me that there would be any confusion between an owner and an agent about the business being for sale. It sounds like the business itself had very little value any how and after being on kitchen NIGHTMARES it will probably be worth even less. If the building sells the business is out so it's rather moot unless you actually wanted to buy a failing business. LOL
                                You couldn't pay me enough to eat at a restaurant this show has participated in. It's beyond me why any one who sees the filth and nastiness in some of theese kitchens would ever want to eat there.
                                Even the building and restaurant will be worth less now to any savy buyer. Some properties just have the kiss of death and that stigma can be exceedingly difficult to over come.

                                1. re: Docsknotinn

                                  Respectfully, I found your posting a bit harsh. It's not clear from this thread that," the business itself had very little value' nor that it's 'failing.'
                                  I don't get the impression that there is any confusion as far as the Chef/Owners are concerned. They have stared that (as of their posting) the business was not for sale. Common sense would dictate that those who are running the business would know whether or not their business is or is not for sale. The listing may be referring to the fact that the building is being listed as already having the physical set up to house a business. not necessarily the business presently occupying the property. The Chef/Owner has already pointed out that pretty much anything is for sale for the right price so he may be keeping his options open. .
                                  As for not setting foot in a "Kitchen Nightmares" restaurant: I'm smiling. I'd be much more inclined to eat in a place that had been redone and the staff re-educated than in any number of other restaurants that have not gone through the process. I think most of us would not eat in most of the places we frequent if we took a tour of the kitchen and storage areas. We like the end product and the fun of going to a restaurant so we tend to turn a blind eye to that aspect of dining out
                                  I have never been to this particular establishment and only did a Chow search because I have been invited to lunch by friends who love it. We're going the last week in August.
                                  I'm going with an open mind. and a hungry belly. Hopefully, I'll be pleasantly surprised. :-}

                              2. re: diner488

                                I'll be there the last week in August so please don't do anything or go anywhere until I have an opportunity to dine in your establishment. My friends who live not far from the restaurant, have only good things to say,
                                and they were just there last week, so I'm looking forward to a great dining experience. :-}

                                1. re: Tay

                                  MY HANNAH AND MASON 'EXPERIENCE'
                                  Well, I have returned from my dining experience at Hannah & Mason and am sorry to report that it was a big disappointment from start to finish.
                                  We arrived 10 minutes before our reservation time, only to be met with a slack jawed stare by one of the Servers and no verbal or physical greeting/acknowledgment . She walked away from us and didn't say or indicate to us that we should wait, be seated, whatever... Just nothing. When she walked back again, we asked her what was going on to which she replied. "Someone has to set up a table for you". We asked if our reservation was even recorded to which she replied. "No" No apology. Let me note that the restaurant, which has two small rooms, was practically empty The other Server set up a table as close to the kitchen as was physically possible. It was literally against the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining room. There was a HUGE window a/c blowing cold air directly on us. When we politely asked if the vents could be turned, our Server told us she had a heart condition and that she "couldn't turn it off or she would die.'. Seriously. that's exactly what she told us! We explained that we were just asking for the direction of the vents to be changed, which she then grudgingly asked the other Server to do. Not a great start to our visit but we were still hopeful. While we were waiting to order, we looked around. The physical charm of the restaurant, begins and ends outside. The interior is completely devoid of anything approaching charming. It's painted a disasterously shocking turquoise.
                                  There are a few cheap poster-like glass framed prints on one wall, and, one more on another wall. That's it: Not even anything on the tables. Really a shame.So much unrealized potential
                                  Now....The food....(Sigh!)
                                  The menu looked promising... It was pretty much downhill after that. Despite 4 out of 5 of us ordering entrees and a la carte soups, and not just sandwiches, no rolls, bread, or even crackers were servied with the meal. Even your basic neighborhood Diner serves some crackers with soup. I will say the Onion soup was tasty. The soup du jour was mushroom and apple. The flavor was ok, but, like most of the other dishes we tried, it was much too salty. We specifically asked if the crab cakes contained real crab meat and were met with an indignant "Well of course at THIS restaurant it's REAL lump crab meat!" WIth that assurance, 2 diners ordered the crab cake entree, another, the 4 cheese quiche, and the pork tenderlion entree and one diner ordered the chicken paninni sandwich. The crab cakes were basically a dry crushed cracker crumb mixture containing less crab than a local Diner's "crabmeat stuffing" No salad accompanied the crab or pork entrees, and only the barest amount of mashed potatoes for the pork and 6 baby asparagus and about a tablespoon of corn salsa, for the crab. The remoulade sauce was so salty, I was at last thankful for the paltry serving. The quiche, while texturally lovely, was also very salty, though in fairness, that might be inherent with a 4 cheese anything. The checken paninni was ok, although the fries served were limp and room temperature, reminicent of those dreadful school cafeteria fries we all ate... And hated. We mentioned to the Server that the crab cakes were basically bread crumbs and contained no lunp crab meat. She told us she'd inform the Chef what we said.

                                  As soon as we finished (Actually, one of us was still eating) the Server rermoved our plates and asked if we wanted dessert, to which we replied, "No thank you. We're just talking" The check was immediately brought and she began to remove our water glasses. When one of our party stated that she'd like to keep her glass. The Server mumbled something about having to get to her 'next job!.' As soon as she gave us the check, she sat down at a nearby table and only then when we were calculating the bill (AKA: The tip) did she begin to engage us in some friendly conversation.
                                  Lest anyone think it (she) was busy, not another table was seated the entire time we were there.

                                  Needless to say, I won't be going back. Not so much because of the food, which was mediocre at best, but due to the poorly trained staff. Frankly, I'm surprised they are still in business. Perhaps they just cater to a customer base that doesn't have a lot of local restaurants from which to choose and therefore accepts mediocre, food and unhospitable, unprofessional service.

                                  If Gordon was really there, either he didn't do a good job, they didn't pay attention, or he just gave up. The least he could have done was to paint the place a color that doesn't make you want to rip your eyes out!

                                  If anyone has another rec in this general area, I'd welcome a posting.

                            2. I think the conflicting stories indicates how confused the restaurant is and was. Everyone has an opinion and some, maybe those involved have other information.

                              All that I know is it was over priced and now the menu is too English. Yes the Scot, he was born in Scotland, came and left and the restaurant got a new kitchen and new decor as part of the deal. They were also made to look foolish and incompetent by the Scot during the filming. How do I know, because that's the script for all his shows. No I don't have inside information.

                              Don't be surprised that when the show airs he miraculously finds errors in the cooking that were "dangerous." The Scott needs to be the only one with brains and cooking ability.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Dave 1234

                                I love Gordon Ramsey and his "Kitchen Nightmare" shows, both for the US market and the original (the UK one is far more aggressive -- check episodes out on BBC America).

                                That said, if I was a restaurateur, I'd have to be pretty darn desperate to call his team in. Yeah, you'll get your baby back on track, but at what cost? The public humiliation factor is quite high!

                                (FYI: We've never been to H&M, but will have to give it a go if the menu has British influences as suggested above. My husband migrated from Scotland, and he misses some of the UK's culinary mainstays something fierce!)