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On the Side: A huge appetite

Maia has gobbled up an enormous Main Line space for its restaurants and market. What's to eat? You name it.

Maia packs a lot into its 22,000-square-foot vastness: Bistro and fine-dining room, house-smoked and -cured meats, house-made breads and desserts, 192 beers and counting, local produce - and on and on. Plus, it's only two-thirds complete.
Maia packs a lot into its 22,000-square-foot vastness: Bistro and fine-dining room, house-smoked and -cured meats, house-made breads and desserts, 192 beers and counting, local produce - and on and on. Plus, it's only two-thirds complete.Read moreJONATHAN WILSON / Inquirer Staff Photographer

In Villanova one day last week - one month, to be exact, after its long-delayed opening - Maia, the behemoth on the Main Line, was doing a credible, if slightly disorienting, lunch business.

The interior of the restaurant(s) and market is described in old news releases as "Natural Pacific Northwest meets Scandinavian Contemporary," meant to suggest, one presumes, a clean and fresh motif, though a staffer surveying the expanse took a stab at "SoHo Loft," which is, at least, less of a mouthful.

At first encounter, Maia can be a big bite indeed: The gourmet market alone is student-union-sized, gauzy box kites of lanterns dangling, tables sawn from long slabs of African babinga, brick ovens jetting blue flame.

Its first floor alone was, briefly, the entire layout of a FreshGrocer, the supermarket chain. And at a total of 22,000 square feet (including the fine-dining room upstairs), it is a third again larger than the indoor footprint of Table 31, Georges Perrier's tri-level whale of an eatery in the towering Comcast Center.

Maia's afternoon food choices - heavy on takeout made with local-farm produce, artisanal cheese, and bistro plates - can be just as daunting. Go in without a plan and you are confronted with daily oyster specials, and charcuterie plates of house-smoked and cured meats, or, say, oven-grilled Alsatian Tart Flambé (caramelized onions, Black Forest ham, and Gruyère), or (why not?), a Cape May Top Neck Clam Pizza.

Or soups and toasted sandwiches and craft beers and rib-eye steak frites, etc.

That's just on ground level.

Melissa Monosoff, the beverage director (formerly sommelier at the Four Seasons), said she has boiled things down. At 3 p.m. each day, she orders the same thing: a half sandwich of roasted vegetables (with Shellbark Hollow goat cheese), a half sandwich of Westphalian ham, and a freshly pulled Illy espresso from the sleek, fresh, full-service espresso-pastry bar up front.

Maia faces the parking lot on Route 30 between Villanova University and I-476 that it shares with the generic brick building's other main tenant, the office supplier Staples.

Perhaps Maia will one day answer the question: What would happen if you put an all-star team of chefs down the road from a deep-pockets Radnor corporate office center and served, among other things, the freshest day-boat scallops from Barnegat Bay?

Last week it was still way too early to tell. In fact, the bistro-bar-market-fine-dining juggernaut that Maia sees as its future self was barely up to two-thirds speed.

Chef Terence Feury (who once presided over Striped Bass, and who shares chef duties with his older brother Patrick, who opened Berwyn's stylish Nectar), said that the staff of 25 cooks was still 15 shy of a full complement.

Even so, Maia's sheer ambition and output is staggering. Head baker Jim McAleese (a Miel alum, and recently a baker for Balthazar, the SoHo brasserie) turns out rustic olive breads and baguettes, flaky cheese and apple Danish, desserts, and various flatbreads.

In the kitchen, 200-pound hogs are broken down for sausage and salami, and for curing hams. The cases in the market section are filled with house-made duck pates and country terrines.

In the cases are white ceramic boxes of roasted fennel salad and herring done every which way, and sides of gravlax and, posed primly, a veined wheel of Bayley Hazen Blue, the velvety darling from Vermont's Jasper Hill Farm.

Monosoff has stocked a cooler with 192 beers, with more on the way.

Upstairs there's more. General manager Al Lucas (former head of operations for the Starr empire) shows off the cocktail patio, and the slab of a communal table, split by an ice trough used to chill wine or raw shellfish.

And a 220-seat dining room, featuring the Feurys' trademark seafood; and a single New York strip steak and a roast guinea hen dish intended to mollify the fish-averse.

So, yes, there's an embarrassment of riches. Under the big top, you get the whole enchilada. Which brings up a second question: Can this temple of something-for-everyone go the distance?

Tune in later. Maia isn't even fully itself yet: "It's sort of like the Titanic," one publicist said last week, "still picking up steam."

Well, we hope not quite.

Though we get the point.