Macon Bistro & Larder: The South meets France, in Chevy Chase Circle


Tony Brown named his new Chevy Chase Circle restaurant after his home town of Macon, Ga. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

A new restaurant near menu-starved Chevy Chase Circle could probably serve cheese and crackers and attract the neighborhood’s attention. A round of applause, then, for the ambition displayed by Macon Bistro & Larder, which just opened in the Chevy Chase Arcade. The newcomer’s name refers to Macon, Ga., where owner Tony Brown grew up, and to its city sister in France. Hence the possibility of a diner sitting down to biscuits with pepper jelly, continuing with steak frites and ending with coconut layer cake.

A former federal contractor, Brown is no stranger to the food scene. While a chemistry major in college, he moonlighted as a prep cook at the esteemed Union Square in New York, where he eventually become a line cook. In San Francisco, he worked at the ground-breaking Square One, and when his then-girlfriend (now wife) got a clerkship in Washington, he moved here and rolled out a little chain of burrito shops called Burro. After the birth of their second child — and with arrival of Chipotle to the market — he figured he’d try a “more traditional path” and go to business school at Georgetown. “But I never left the idea of doing another food project behind.”

In charge of the open kitchen is chef Mike Matis, who comes to the project from the celebrated, Southern-accented Yardbird in Miami. Already he’s sending out plenty to please, including pickled yellow cauliflower with melt-in-the-mouth cheese coins, thick slices of fried green tomato garnished with squares of pork belly, and raclette presented in a little casserole with boiled purple potatoes and pickled pearl onions. Those biscuits, baked to order, cost $7 for four. I say, splurge. Vegans are accommodated with a thick slice of poached, grilled cauliflower “steak” served with a colorful ratatouille (and more thyme-tinted crumbs than optimal).

A diner can’t escape desserts served in Mason jars these days, but Macon’s blackberry cobbler topped with crème fraîche is likely to find you scraping the bottom of the glass.

The trim, 65-seat dining room comes with lots of windows, light bulbs spelling out the restaurant’s name above the bar, and leafy green wallpaper. “We wanted a vibe that was Southern Garden Party Meets Bistro Luxe,” says Brown, whose wife, Kim, helped dress the place. The “Larder” in the name nods to the mustard vinaigrette, cheese coins and other goods made in-house and offered for sale to customers who, as Brown says, might want to “take a taste of Macon home with them.”

The caveat? The din. Macon becomes a boombox as the night wears on, forcing patrons to lean into the tables and cup their ears to hear one another. Dine early if you want to eat to a beat that won’t pop an eardrum.

5520 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-248-7807. maconbistro.com. Entrees, $17 to $26.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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