Dine Review: The Winning Mix
Macon Bistro & Larder delights with Southern and French fare
As owner and executive chef Tony Brown puts it, Macon Bistro & Larder is best described as Southern Garden Party meets Bistro Luxe.
That’s because the menu takes its culinary inspiration from Macon, Ga., and its sister city, Macon, France, incorporating both Southern and French classics, as well as dishes that meld the two cuisines. The décor is a blend of sensibilities, too, with emerald cushioned bistro chairs; a giant pen-and-ink drawing of a magnolia tree; chalkboard maps of the Macons in Georgia and France, and the restaurant in Upper Northwest D.C.; and flowery art nouveau wallpaper that would look equally fitting in a Savannah sunroom or a Paris café. Not surprisingly, Brown shares allegiances, growing up mostly in the Dixie Macon, but having lived in Europe as the child of an Army doctor.
As contrived as it may sound, the concept works. The food is gracefully executed and the setting in the historic Chevy Chase Arcade is charming.
Speaking geographically, though, the Southern and hybrid dishes outshine the French-inspired ones. So in the spirit of the place, here’s a map of the menu:
Southern Fare (Macon, Ga.)
Biscuits, deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes—you can’t go wrong with any of these classic Southern starters. Grandma Essie’s biscuits aren’t the flakiest I’ve ever tasted, but add a schmear of honey butter and pepper jelly and you’ll be glad you ordered them. The deviled eggs, listed on the bar snack menu, are among the prettiest and cleverest around town; the swirled egg yolks are mixed with mayonnaise and sweet pickle and topped with red bell pepper marmalade, bacon bits and a drizzle of homemade hickory-smoked olive oil. And by all means, do not miss the fried green tomatoes: thick, ultra-crisp slices topped with squares of pork belly and a spicy tomato aioli. The frying and accompaniments would impress even Fannie Flagg.
Salad fans will be delighted with the Bibb County Greens (named after both the lettuce and the county in which Macon, Ga., is located), an unassuming-looking but flavor-packed toss of Bibb lettuce, braised beets, radishes, buttermilk dressing and pecans charged with cayenne, brown sugar and rosemary. As for main courses, beef eaters will be happy with the rib-sticking short ribs, a quintessential comfort dish served with creamy grits that is probably best enjoyed on a cool night.
Desserts at area restaurants are often an afterthought, lacking in creativity and appeal. Not so here, where each dessert is a classy play on a classic sweet.
Gigi Mama’s Coconut Cake, named after Brown’s 97-year-old grandmother who lives in Birmingham, Ala., makes me wish she was my grandma, too. Sweet and super-moist, the dessert is sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with sesame ice cream—interesting (but not essential) contrasts added by chef de cuisine Mike Matis. The spot-on chocolate party cake—an elevated version from pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey days—is served to every patron with a candle, regardless of whether it’s your birthday; the deeply chocolate cake and creamy, not-too-sweet icing are cause for celebration. And the fruit-packed blackberry cobbler, served with crème fraiche in a Mason jar (what isn’t these days?) is another comfort food from Grandma Essie. Brown says she made it often when he was a kid, and its inclusion on the menu means a lot to him. It will make for a memorable ending to your meal, too.
French Fare (Macon, France)
Three starters that were okay but not worth ordering again: the shrimp bisque (thin in consistency and flavor), raclette (boring and heavy after a few bites of the melted cheese and sliced purple potatoes) and the bar snack of pork rillettes (a bland mash of shredded pork and invisible spices).
However, for those hankering for hanger steak, Macon’s cut is tender and cooked to order, and it’s hard to resist finishing the pile of accompanying crisp and appropriately salted hand-cut fries.
For vegans or those who want a meatless main course, the French-leaning cauliflower steak is a lively and filling jumble of charred, sliced cauliflower served with ratatouille, spring vegetable emulsion and thyme crumble.
Hybrid Fare (Southern and French)
In the category of order-again entrées, I’d put the rainbow trout, a nod to both French trout amandine and the mountain trout of Georgia that Brown fished for while growing up. The dish is served with the small, green French Le Puy lentils and a persillade, a French seasoning mixture containing parsley that is also mixed with pecans, the native Southern nut. The flavorful combination gives the mild-mannered white fish a wake-up call and will convert even the most avid lentil loathers. I’d also go for the sea scallops again, a Technicolor play on coquilles St. Jacques that is served atop a mash of green butter beans (baby limas like the ones Brown used to get at his hometown farmers markets) and surrounded by a moat of pink beurre rouge. The colorful mix of mollusks, veggies and buttery red wine sauce tastes as good as it looks.
Somewhat less successful in the fusion field is the pork tenderloin, served with a chipotle peach preserve, chevre soubise (onion paste mixed with goat cheese) and wilted watercress. The pork is rather tasteless on its own, but the dish improves with a forkful of the meat combined with the spicy preserve, creamy cheese and bitter greens.
Aside from the pleasures of the food, I found the service informed and personable. But the acoustics! On busy nights (which occur often), the din can get as noisy as a Bastille Day celebration.
Nonetheless, the Macon sister act is clearly a hit.
Carole Sugarman is the magazine’s food editor. To comment on this review, email email@example.com.
MACON BISTRO & LARDER
5520 Connecticut Ave. NW, (in the Chevy Chase Arcade), Washington, D.C., 202-248-7807, maconbistro.com
Open for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Open for dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. The Larder, which sells restaurant-made items, such as Essie’s bake-at-home biscuits, cheese coins, sea salt caramels, rosemary-cayenne pecans and pepper jelly, opens at 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. on Sunday. The restaurant and larder are closed on Monday.
Highly recommended, available on Open Table
Dinner appetizers, $8 to $15; main courses, $22 to $26; desserts, $9 to $10. Brunch main courses, $14 to $24. Larder items range from $6 to $10.
Amuse bouche of cheese coins and pickles (or pickled cauliflower), deviled eggs, biscuits with pepper jelly and honey butter, fried green tomatoes, rainbow trout, sea scallops, short ribs, hanger steak, grilled asparagus, coconut cake, chocolate party cake, blackberry cobbler
WINE AND MORE
Macon’s wine list is full of delicious, reasonably priced French wines. Each is listed with its appellation of origin and the grapes to help diners choose.
17 wines by the glass, priced $8-$22
34 wines by the bottle, priced $36-$90
30 of the wines are $60 and under
RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE GLASS If ordering the sea scallops, try the Domaine de L’Hemoniere Touraine Sauvignon Blanc (white, $10); the pork tenderloin, the Cave de Beblenheim “Reserve” Riesling (white, $10); and the hanger steak, the Chateau Coupe Roses “La Bastide” Minervois (Carignan/Grenache) (red, $10).
TOP BOTTLE PICKS 2013 Triennes Provence Rosé ($48); 2011 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Macon, Chardonnay (white, $56); and 2010 Chateau Mondésir Cotes de Bordeaux, Cabernet/Merlot (red, $45).
RECOMMENDED BEER “Hopzilla,” Terrapin Brewing, Ga. (on tap for $8).
This Double IPA is for serious “Hop Heads.”
RECOMMENDED COCKTAIL Martini de Lamartine (vodka, St. Germain, orange, lemon), $12
OVERALL GRADE: A
The wine list is perfectly suited to the food and fun, casual vibe at Macon.
Jay Youmans, of Kensington, an Advanced Sommelier and a Master of Wine, owns the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C.