Macon Bistro & Larder

Southern-inspired eats

A charming setting for diehard foodies.

Neighborhood and DC foodies flock here for its great service, top-notch foods, and snazzy booze.

Review Portion: When you first set foot in Macon Bistro, you think you have just dropped into a neighborhood joint. But what you may not realize is that the chef/owner, Tony Brown, is a Macon, Georgia native who gets it when the food comes to Southern flavors and textures. Once you take a bit of Essie’s biscuits with honey butter and pepper jelly—all Southern delights—you’ll feel transported down South.

And you will be tempted by the fab cocktails, ranging from the quirky Macon Apple Brandy Cider (Country Acres Apple Cider, Mulling Spices and Apple Brandy) to the What’s In My Glass with white whisky, Amaro, and mole bitters. Brown has made sure that his staff in charge of booze knows what is going on. So be sure to ask for a drinks menu, and sample one of their heady cocktails.

As you scan the menu, you may at first be puzzled by the varying choices, but if you really, really love Southern cooking, not much can outclass the shrimp and grits to kick off your dinner there. Pair this order with several of Essie’s biscuits, and you may not wish to move on. Then there’s the hearty and flavorful onion soup, filled with Gruyère and accompanied by bread…of course.

As for the main meal, all choices are tempting. Want something beefy? The thick and juicy Macon burger with bacon or the lacquered short ribs with grits make a welcoming meal. But if you are still stuck on the Southern them, it’s hard to pass up the fried chicken with “mac”-on cheese and collard greens. The other entrées don’t scream “Macon, Georgia” quite so loudly.

As for desserts, you would probably like to take one of each: coconut cake, chocolate chess pie, and bourbon pecan pie or the most traditional-sounding choices. But you may be looking for a more international flavor, so the crystallized ginger crème brûlée may be the winner. Note, that as you are leaving, you can always pick up some cookies from the hostess stand by the front door. There’s a mini bakery display with for-sale treats to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Why We Came: Placed in the center of an established neighborhood and in an historic building on upper Connecticut Ave., the restaurant is relatively new, but its historic-looking setting give it the air of old-time charm. You may want to just drop in, but unless outdoor seating is open in warm weahter, you should make a reservation.

Who's in Charge: Chef/owner Tony Brown oversees it all.

The Look: Macon Bistro might well remind you of an earlier-era sit-down place. After all, it is placed up front in an historic building, the Chevy Chase Arcade built in 1925, so it is vintage plus contemporary accents.

The Vibe: The hostess, waitstaff and maybe even the chef welcome all comers. You will really feel like you have stepped into a fashionable but not ultra-suave setting with a very friendly atmosphere.

The Peeps: Dressed casually and chatting with each other, patrons are a mixed bag, but mostly look like the neighborhood type, not high-end DC business folk out for a swanky evening. It’s relaxed and fun.

Service: The service was attentive and speedy, and the waitstaff checked in to be sure you have what you want. And if you want more biscuits, you can get them! How was the service ? Did the waiter hover, ignore you, or were you treated like a prince? Indicate how the service went the entire meal. Did the waiters know their menu and make suggestions? Could they tell you where the meats, produce, etc. were sourced, if certain foods were made in-house, etc.?

What to Drink: The drinks menu is sophisticated though not particularly lengthy. The wine steward knows what goes well with what, so do not hesitate to ask for some pairing suggestions. Even the beer choices were unusual with brews from all over the beer-drinking world, plus a few gluten-free drinks.

What's the Score: In this food-mad city, Macon Bistro deserves special attention. For one, the chef/owner really knows his craft, and has come up with recipes that surely would make his Southern Granny proud. Its comfort zone beckons all who want a casual place that is not just fast-food or too noisy, busy or out of touch. It is a top place to go for good food and a neigbborhood vibe.

Macon Bistro & Larder, 5520 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington, DC 202-248-7807 | Dinner nightly, Brunch, Sat.-Sun.

Profile: Tony Brown

A native of Macon, Georgia and the owner of and chef at the Macon Bistro on upper Connecticut, Tony Brown has proven that he is no slouch in the kitchen. And certainly not as a successful entrepreneur who understands the appeal of top-notch cooking in a cozy setting.

This Macon native has certainly learned the kitchen basics, he said, by watching and working with both of his grandmothers and his mom. From them, he learned the basic Southern treats such as buttermilk biscuits and coconut cake. And today he still asserts that good cooking is more than just getting the recipe right: it is about drawing folks together to enjoy a communal meal.

With his father as a role model, Brown decided to capitalize on his strengths, attending Cornell University and majoring in chemistry. His first job was working for a chemical company, but somewhere along the way, he felt the culinary tug, and enrolled in the renowned Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, affiliated with the James Beard House (the is now called the Institute of Culinary Education). “That lit a fire with me,” he said. Wonderful kichen, very smart, interesting people had passion for what doing.

After graduating, Brown worked with NYC mega chef Danny Meyer at his Union Square Café, and after 1 1/3 years working there, Brown with his fiancée moved to San Francisco. That gave him a chance to work at Joyce Goldstein’s Square One, and Brown summarizes his memories: “It was fabulous,” he said. “I fell in love with California cooking and the whole tradition of local sourcing.”

The he and his fiancée moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, what gave him the chance to use his California smarts. “In the Mission District,” he said, “I opened up a burrito shop that was wildly successful. It was Cal-Mex food. So I saw that I could cook and run a successful business.”

The couple then moved to DC, where he opened up three Burro restaurants around town, which he operated for about 8 years. At that point, Brown decided to get a business degree, and subsequently, having left the restaurant world, started consulting. But he yearned for the restaurant life again. And the couple decided it was time to venture back into the food world. Hence: Macon Bistro and Larder.

“ I wanted a bistro as a neighborhood gathering place in an informal but traditional setting,” he said. He set about creating traditional dishes but with a French and a Southern edge, noting that there is a lot of commonality between French and Southern culinary approaches.

He also noted that the menu has been an evolution, with the introduction of classic fare and some family recipes, like his grandmother’s coconut cake, and in the summer, her blackberry cobbler. Plus he added some classic bistro cooking techniques, like charcuterie, pâtés, and long, slow braising. The most popular dishes, he noted, are the flaky biscuits (probably a family recipe) and both the scallops with roasted mushrooms and the lacquer-braised short ribs with Anson Mill grits.

Thanks to the success of Macon Bistro, Brown is increasing its size to include an extra dining area with small plates, some dishes from the regular menu, and one that gives the patrons a casual chance to watch TV or hold a private event. Sounds like a winning plan for this Southern-influence eatery!

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