August 5, 2015
Prominently displayed above the bar at Macon Bistro & Larder is a hanging piece of art that serves as a diagram of the Chevy Chase restaurant’s cultural roots. Outlines of the state of Georgia and the country of France are situated above an outline of the District of Columbia, in the same positions that parents would occupy in a family tree. The common thread is that each territory boasts a “Macon” – Macon, Mâcon, and Macon Bistro and Larder, respectively – and the location of each of these three points is marked on the map in its proper place.
The Bistro’s roots are both southern and French, or in its own words, “southern garden party meets bistro luxe.” The unusual combination is the brainchild of proprietor Tony Brown, a product of the Culinary Institute, who worked previously at Union Square Café in Manhattan and Square One in San Francisco. A native of Macon, Georgia, Brown was raised with an appreciation for southern cooking, which he learned from his grandmothers. But his father’s position as an Army officer also forced Brown to travel throughout the U.S. and Europe, and it was through this experience that he gained a taste for classic French cuisine.
The two stylistic influences come together subtly and naturally at Brown’s restaurant, which opened in May of 2014. Most of the items on the menu are elegant and take on southern comfort food standards, while the extensive wine list boasts a good number of French selections. The interior of the smallish dining room is a perfect marriage of the two: intricately patterned floral wallpaper that evokes the Belle Epoque and a large painting of a live oak hangs as a reminder of the south. The design is also an effective blend of vintage and modern. The space itself, located on a busy stretch of Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase Circle, can only be accessed by going through an ornate arcade straight out of the old world. But its most iconic piece of decoration is a sign above the bar that features the word “macon” illuminated in light bulbs.
Cocktails tend to be both creative and cleverly titled: “That’s My Jam” ($12) is mixed with a taste of house-made spiced blueberry jam and “The Good Thymes” ($13) is a heady blend of rye, chartreuse, and thyme-infused vermouth. American microbrews abound on the beer list, including a few hard-to-find southern brews and even a French hard cider.
The kitchen gets the ball rolling with a plate of Johnny Cakes ($13) – small, compact pancakes each topped with a dollop of zesty deviled crab meat. A bit more off the beaten path is Nettle Custard ($12), a sort of savory pudding made out the leafy stalks, which somewhat resemble broccoli rabe in taste and appearance. Dishes of tomatoes in vinegar or platters of light, sweet cornbread also make fine starts to a meal.
Unsurprisingly, given their southern and French roots, main dishes tend to be on the heavy side. The kitchen favors pork – a staple of both types of cooking – and uses it in several dishes, like the Braised Pork Shoulder ($28), a thick, moist hunk of meat that falls apart seemingly at the slightest touch. Although perhaps not most people’s idea of a southern specialty, Country Fried Goat ($30) is another winner: a cube of tender meat in a crispy shell, bathed in a refreshingly light broth of root vegetables. Fruity deserts like the White Peach and Blackberry Cobbler ($9) are the perfect complement to a humid summer night.
The “Larder” part of Macon’s name refers to a stock of cookies, biscuits and other goodies that sits behind the front counter. For more than a few Chevy Chase residents, it has already proven difficult to pass by without stopping in to pick up a batch of Pecan Sandies ($8) or Mint Chocolate Wafers ($6). Judging from the throngs that fill the dining room, even on weekday evening, the neighborhood is thankful to finally have a bistro of this caliber within walking distance – whether they stay for the full feast or they just stop by for a biscuit or two.